HEARING LOSS IS an invisible disability. This can lead to huge assumptions from people around us and often even those who know us well.
I am hard of hearing – I wear hearing aids and read lips. I also suffer from hyperacusis, which is a reduced tolerance and increased sensitivity to everyday sounds. I will wear earplugs often as it helps reduce the anxiety associated with the disease.
Deafness and sensory challenges come in many different forms.
“Anne moved into the hotel room and has not been seen since”
As a classical composer and writer, I explore these ideas in my new show for this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. The show takes place in a hotel room where the elements of what we expect from theater – in terms of narrative communication – have disappeared.
What is Communication? How it works? What if what we communicate was interpreted as something else?
These are important questions in any field – like theater – where one is isolated from the outside world and where one exchanges information. Words are used, usually spoken in a language we understand; but we don’t often go to the theater played in a language we don’t understand.
My show I Used to Feel takes place in a hotel room – a real hotel room at the Marker Hotel in Dublin. Life goes on around us as the show unfolds slowly.
We meet ‘Anne’, who checked into the hotel three days ago and has not been seen by staff since.
Source: Ailís Ní Ríain
The play grapples with the very nature of how we communicate, what gets ‘lost’ and what is never fully ‘understood’; it invites the public to observe and interpret the unique situation in which we find ourselves.
Is there room for misinterpretation? Yes absolutely. Can we misjudge communication, or even become hostile to someone whose language we don’t understand? Yes, I believe we can and do.
The fundamental question for me – working with actor Alvean Jones and musician Kate Romano – is how much our judgments, biases and expectations play into our interpretation of such a situation and how much an audience should it work to understand something?
A matter of interpretation
Communication, and sometimes language itself, can only be an approximation, as two people will very rarely, if ever, have the exact same understanding of what is being communicated.
This means that communication in theatre, like everywhere else, is a live process, exchange or performance. We interpret what is shown or shared.
What happens when the situation, the sound or the language itself is not what we expect or is unfamiliar? Or, in the case of I Used to Feel, what if the narrative was just what you think it is?
I Used to Feel is written for two performers – both tell the story, don’t use the conventions we’ve come to expect, and in some cases demand the theater. We use a combination of languages including sign, music, movement and situation to tell the story which addresses, among other things, the challenge of communication in today’s world.
What happens when we play with the theater components? When our auditory experience is not what we expect? Does communication really break down or do we just give up when signifiers no longer work on our terms?
For me, these questions are fascinating and make me, as an artist with my own communication issues, work harder and bolder when thinking about how we communicate history in theatre.
Ailís Ní Ríain is a classical composer and writer from Cork. His production I Used to Feel is part of this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. Supported by Arts and Disability Ireland.