The Inaugural Deaf Arts NI Festival Arrives at the MAC in May

Cre8 Theatre and c21 Theatre Company are pleased to announce that the inaugural Deaf Arts Festival NI will launch in the MAC, Belfast on the 6 and 7 May to coincide with Deaf Awareness Week 2023.

The festival has been co-founded by both local companies as a way to connect with d/Deaf communities across Northern Ireland and beyond, creating opportunity, access, and inclusion to arts activity for integrated audiences, as well as place deaf artists in central roles on the main stage.

The festival kicks off in its first year with a theatre piece of brand-new writing from each company.

Cre8 Theatre presents a brand new modern musical adaption of the classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’ written by Sarah Lyle and Charis McRoberts, for children and families, featuring sign song, music, an interactive vibrational sound experience, and puppetry, played in a relaxed environment, making it accessible to all audiences.

c21 Theatre Company will offer ‘Expecting’, a play containing a series of interweaving monologues and duologues in both English and sign language by Belfast Playwright Charis McRoberts.

Both productions have been developed in collaboration with d/Deaf artist Paula Clarke and feature d/Deaf and hearing artists.

Artistic Director (c21 Theatre Company) Stephen Kelly said, “As an artistic director of a theatre company in Belfast, it is essential to keep accessibility within the arts at the forefront of what we do. With this inaugural festival, we have been given an opportunity to improve access and break down barriers together. Interacting with the d/Deaf community has been an integral part of this journey and long may it last.”

Artistic Director (Cre8 Theatre) Sarah Lyle said, “It has been an amazing experience collaborating with the d/Deaf community and inspiring young people in Northern Ireland. Creating a theatrical piece for all audiences that also offers access, inclusion, and integration for the d/Deaf community.”

Julie Stewart, Programming Officer at the MAC said, “We are so excited and privileged here in the MAC to be hosting such an exciting, inclusive and beautiful project. The collaborative process embraced by c21 Theatre Company, Cre8 Theatre and d/Deaf and hearing artists really speaks to our vision and aim to present theatre which is inclusive for all. We can’t wait to welcome d/Deaf and hearing audiences to see the work!”

Paula Clarke, artist and performer, said, “This project is such an important one. For deaf artists and performers, it can be difficult to break through into mainstream arts as our language and culture are different. Being given a lead role in this project, we are able to showcase not only our wonderful language, culture and stories but also how integrated theatre can be done in a way that welcomes and includes everyone. And this is our belief - everyone regardless of language, background and culture has a place within the arts and a right to enjoy theatre fully.

This is about sending a message to the deaf community to remind them that they too can achieve their dreams and to aim high. It's also a way of showing the arts world the unique perspective and value that deaf artists can bring to any production.”

Alison McCrudden, joint Head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland said, “The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is delighted to support Cre8 Theatre and c21 Theatre Company with the Deaf Arts Festival thanks to The National Lottery players. The Arts Council is committed to supporting artists and arts organisations that create opportunities for everyone to access and participate in the Arts. The Deaf Arts Festival offers just that with this inclusive programming which not only offers a platform to showcase the work of d/Deaf artists but also presents the work in an accessible way for audiences from the d/Deaf community to enjoy, helping to bring great art to all.”

After the festival both companies will embark on a tour of regional arts venues at which each of the new productions will be performed.

c21 Theatre Company ‘Expecting’ tour dates:

Thursday 11 May, 8pm Studio 1A, Bangor

Friday 12 May, 8pm - Island Arts Centre, Lisburn

Saturday 13 May, 8pm, Marketplace Theatre, Armagh

Friday 19 May 8pm – Newry Town Hall CANCELLED

Saturday 20 May, 8pm Courtyard Theatre, Newtownabbey

Cre8 Theatre ‘Sleeping Beauty’ tour dates:

Saturday 13 May, 2pm, Marketplace Theatre, Armagh

Friday 19 May, 11am Newry Arts Centre CANCELLED

Saturday 20 May, 2pm Courtyard Theatre, Newtownabbey

The first Deaf Arts NI Festival has been made possible by the kind support of the following funders:

Halifax Foundation NI, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, Enkalon Foundation, Doyle Shipping Group and Arts Council NI.

Tickets to ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Expecting’ at the MAC are available now here: Sleeping Beauty and here: Expecting.