“Connecting with Deaf Audiences” Final Report

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In 2013 for the first time, sign language interpretation was offered as part of the Essential Theatre Festival. This was a pretty big undertaking for us – there’s a lot of work and a lot of money that goes into making this happen smoothly and well – and we were very excited to be bringing this new aspect into our festival.
To help fund the project, we participated in our first ever power2give crowdfunding project. If you’re not familiar with power2give, it’s actually pretty awesome, and you can learn more about it here. We’d started out hoping to raise money, but through our power2give project, we gained so much more. The outpouring of community support and enthusiasm was touching, encouraging and absolutely inspiring to all of us. People we’d known for years contacted us thanking us for the work we do every year, for our years of support of Georgia artists, and for our commitment to sharing quality theatre with anyone and everyone we meet. People we’d never realized had an interest reached out to say thank you for bringing new theatre to Deaf audiences, and thank you for engaging us in conversation. And the support we received from members of Atlanta’s own Deaf community was heartening and inspiring as well. The video you see if you go to our project page would never have been possible without two of our most committed Deaf collaborators, Amy Cohen Efron and AJ Wooddall. And the geographic extent of the response was impressive too: Terp Theatre in Detroit, MI, contacted us and said,  

“You are embarking on a wonderful project, which will greatly enhance your local theatre community’s ability to better reflect the diversity of our world…Your community-centered approach is to be lauded…Our heartfelt congratulations to you, from your friends in ‘The D’.”

So this undertaking turned out to be much more than we’d originally thought it would be, and it’s just the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing conversation with Deaf audience and artists in the coming years.
All of our power2give supporters were promised a final report, so they could see the specific difference their support made. Because it’s such an exciting story, we’ve decided to also share this report with you. Below is the report that our power2give supporters received. We are so thankful to all of them for supporting us as we continue to push the boundaries of accessability and inclusiveness in our work, and we hope you are excited by this experience as well.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Essentail Theatre, our Playwriting Competition for Georgia writers, our annual play festival or our outreach and accessibility initiatives, please check us out at www.EssentialTheatre.com, on Facebook or contact me directly via email at [email protected].

Connecting with Deaf Audiences
Final Report
Some Numbers:
·      44 individual donors supported “Connecting with Deaf Audiences” through power2give. We had 59 individual donors for all of 2013. That means a whopping 74% of our donors were inspired by CDA!
·      3 of the festival’s 27 performances were interpreted. That’s one performance of each of the plays we produced.
·      Approximately 40 people attended the talkback series, or around a dozen per talkback. Of these, over half were Deaf.  Without our interpreters staying through the talkbacks, over half of our talkback participants would not have had this opportunity!
·      Though our Deaf patrons weren’t singled out in any way, on average between 3 and 16 audience members utilized the interpretation services at each interpreted performance. Several hearing audience members also stated that they had come on the interpreted nights because they enjoy the interpretation, which was unanticipated but not surprising!
·      As of today, 10 videos on our YouTube channel – our entire 2013 Festival collection – have now been closed captioned. By the 2014 festival, we will have all our archive videos captioned and will caption all new videos released on our channel to provide greater accessibility.
Focus Group Findings:
As part of our outreach, Essential offered free theatre tickets to any Deaf audience member who agreed to participate in a post-festival focus group. The goals of this focus group were to discuss:
·      participants’ experiences with Essential this summer
·      the experience participants would like to have with Essential
>as an audience member
>as an artist
·      the experience participants would like to have in Atlanta theatre as a whole.
Due to insufficient response to scheduling requests, the focus group was cancelled. However, Deaf participants offered abundant feedback during the festival and specifically in the talkbacks. Here are some of the things we learned:
·      We were warned before the shows not to expect a huge turnout of Deaf audience members, due to the fact that we had not previously offered interpreted performances and were doing new plays by emerging artists that didn’t contain Deaf themes, characters or performers.
·      However, we did have several new festival attendees as a result of adding this service, and everyone who came enjoyed the shows very much.
·      Participants particularly enjoyed the opportunity to interact directly with the playwrights after seeing the shows.
·      There is a great interest in seeing work by Deaf artists.
What Folks Had To Say About CDA:
Dan McDougall, of Terp Theatre in Detriot, contacted us to express enthusiasm for our “Connecting with Deaf Audiences” initiative. He had this to say:
It’s great to read about your approach to inclusion of the Deaf community in your future work – especially today! I co-founded TerpTheatre in Detroit, and we have just announced our two year research and book project focusing on interpreted theatre.
[http://www.facebook.com/l/jAQH0ZNIjAQEYFxamzE9gbYkAkbP2fqcWI2_50B5Jvg1U0g/terptheatre.com/book/]… You are embarking on a wonderful project, which will greatly enhance your local theatre community’s ability to better reflect the diversity of our world… Your community-centered approach is to be lauded, and would be a great discussion for our book. Our heartfelt congratulations to you, from your friends in “The D”.
Amie Kroessig, a long-time Essential company member, sent us this message after our first interpreted performance:
Thank you for Essential Theatre for bringing sign language interpreters In for the deaf patrons last night for Stray Dogs. It was very interesting and fun seeing the emotions being portrayed by the interpreters. (Remembered some from when i had to sign when i was younger) I believe all theaters should have at least one night of bringing in the interpreters.
One unanticipated response that we received was that several hearing audience members said they specifically came to the interpreted performances because they enjoyed watching the interpreters.
How Our Programming Will Develop in 2014:
·      We are actively seeking a corporate sponsor to support the interpreted performances for the 2014 festival. We don’t have one yet, but it’s our goal to leverage the support you have shown and the positive feedback we received to entice a corporate sponsor.
·      We’ll involve our interpreters earlier and more actively in determining where they will be placed on the stage for the next festival.
·      In response to the interest that was expressed in the possibility of our doing a show by a Deaf writer or involving a Deaf character or actor, we will advertise the playwriting contest deadline in every Deaf forum we can reasonably access in addition to the literary and theatre community posts we have traditionally made as the contest deadline approaches.
·      By the 2014 festival, we will have all our archive YouTube videos captioned. We will caption all new videos released on our channel as well, to provide greater accessibility.
·      Because none of Essential Theatre’s staff is Deaf, we will also seek to engage a Deaf community consultant to advise in matters of marketing, outreach and program development.