It was one of those decisions I left to the last minute, the sort I should have made weeks ago but didn’t until now.
For one night only, Graeae was putting on Prometheus Awakes, their largest ever outdoors spectacle – comprising pyrotechnics, heart-stopping acrobatics, digital projections on the façade of a historic house, and a giant 8m puppet lit from within, circling the perimeter of Greenwich Park as part of the International Greenwich and Docklands Festival. The show – a modern reinterpretation of the Greek myth of Prometheus – would not be seen again in London. I had to be there.
A few buzzes of the old iPhone and I was done; accommodation, travel and babysitting arrangements for the night. I couldn’t wait.
The show far exceeded my expectations. For the whole of the 40 minutes that it was on, my mouth was agape – so much so that I had to remember to shut it for fear of dry-out. Of course, the puppet’s slow, deliberate stroll towards Queen’s House – operated by people in white anti-contamination suits – was utterly thrilling, especially when accompanied by stirring music that seemed to thump your heart for you.
Those bursts of flame that erupted as it approached Queen’s House! Those fireworks, whizzing through the night sky right behind more people in anti-contamination suits, forming a human net high above you! It had to be seen to be believed.
This being a Graeae production – its gregarious Artistic Director Jenny Sealey, herself deaf, enjoys a high profile – naturally it attracted a large gaggle of deaf people. Coming from an isolated rural location, I was grateful of the opportunity to mingle with people who shared my cultural values. It would be my first time since obtaining a cochlear implant (CI).
As soon as I began conversing with a new member of the London deaf community – a beautifully expressive East European actor who’d settled in the UK in the last four years – however, I became aware of how clumsy my signs were.
I also became aware of how much more clearly I was hearing my own voice, and that interfered more with my signing. Because I’d spent so much time with non-deaf people, learning to hear again with my CI, I’d been paying less attention to my signing skills than I assumed I did.
I can’t blame Miles for the reduced practice – he is just as multi-faceted in his means of communication as I am. In fact, whenever I got tired of hearing with the CI, he’d switch his voice off and resort to pure BSL.
Indications were that I was seeing a change in my cultural sense of self that night in London, and I was not a little uncomfortable with it. All my life I had never used the telephone unaided, had never bothered with music without a primitive, driving beat. For years I had existed in a world that was far more visual than audiovisual – and it was a world that I loved because it enabled me to focus on physical expression and the richness of sign language in its many forms. Now I was a CI user, where in that world did I belong?
But the operative word is ‘change’. I am still awaking to that change. Prometheus Awakes actually took place last June, but due to the unfamiliarity of my new transition – I was first a hearing aid user, then a deaf person living in silence for three years, and finally a CI user – I had to make sense of it before I could blog about it.
It will take time. Crucially, I am still not hearing – and I don’t wish to be, because being deaf is what I am accustomed to. It is a little like those wives in divorce courts arguing for a more significant proportion of their husbands’ fortunes than they’d like to give away because that’s the lifestyle they’re used to.
Indeed, one important conclusion I made after my night in London was to take out my CI processor before socialising within the Deaf Community. Outside of awesome spectacles like Prometheus Awakes, I already gain more than enough satisfaction from participating in the flow of BSL. Why do I need sound as well?
- Prometheus Awakes – a review (guardian.co.uk)