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August 23, 2005

Touching the deaf through live theatre

From: Cape Argus, Africa - Aug 23, 2005

By Staff Reporter

If you thought live theatre wasn't for deaf people, Dale Holmes wants to change your mind.

The actor, who was born deaf, is passionate about raising awareness of what it means to be deaf. Holmes, from Wetton, wowed festival-goers at last month's Grahamstown Arts Festival where he performed mime sketches in the streets.

He said both hearing and deaf people were keen to know more about him and the Universe Deaf Theatre which he founded and which is based in Cape Town.

Using sign language he said: "Wherever we perform, people always want to know more about being deaf and what it means to be a performer. They are interested in how it is used in our performances." The Universe Deaf Theatre is made up of deaf and hearing actors and is based at Holmes's father Harold's home in Wetton.

The deaf actors perform using sign language and a voice-over is used to say their lines to hearing audience members.

The group was recently awarded R700 000 in Lotto funding. The actors have already received R400 000 of the money which allowed Dale, fellow actor Winston Walker and other theatre members to travel to Grahamstown. They have also invested in new equipment.

Holmes, whose previous jobs have included being a senior messenger at the Department of Housing, says they will use all the money to widen their audience.

He said he has had to battle prejudice in the past and one of their aims was to raise awareness of being deaf and break down barriers between deaf and hearing people.

Holmes said: "If there is one message we want to get across it is that deaf people can do as much, if not more, than our hearing counterparts. We are deaf, not disabled and not handicapped." The actors are familiar faces to pupils at deaf schools around the Western Cape but they want to perform further afield.

Letters from principals at schools where they have performed say deaf pupils who were introverted have watched the plays and become more enthusiastic.

Holmes's father Harold, the group's playwright, said that kind of reaction inspired them to continue and try to broaden the number of schools they visited.

He writes plays with a social message which he calls "eduplays", using knowledge he gained as general secretary of the Owl Night Shelter in Lansdowne.

Among the sketches his son performed at Grahamstown was his play, The Clown Who Forgot How to Laugh. It tells the story of a clown who loses his job at a circus because he forgets how to make people laugh. But when he meets a young girl who is crying because she has lost her money to see the circus, he makes her laugh to cheer her up and so remembers how to make people laugh.

Following their success at Grahamstown, the group has been booked to perform in Johannesburg this week.

Holmes said: "It is my aspiration to hold a national deaf theatre festival in South Africa, and in the future I'd like to have a television channel just for deaf viewers."

To contact the Universe Deaf Theatre call 021 762 1459.