Tin Bath Theatre company held a scratch of Holiday Selfie at the ace Graeae rehearsal space yesterday to get feedback from an invited audience.
Before the guests arrived we spent the morning resetting the sound levels, as we were using different speakers which conveyed more of the layers of the sound effects.
I performed using a different implant processor program than at Pulse Festival (I have 5 different settings). I had thought that my music program would be best, but ended up using my everyday setting and that seemed to ensure I pitched my voice at the right volume in the Graeae space.
The audience members were generous with their time by staying back to give feedback directly after the show.
On first reflection, I think if we take the show forward one of my main jobs will be where the deeper conflict lies. This is tricky because I want to re create a sense of the initial period after my CI switch on – the sounds and sensations – and this phase has been relatively conflict free in comparison to pre-switch on. How many flashbacks can we do? I certainly have a new relationship with my past. Every time I have a new breakthrough in my hearing rehabilitation, it reminds me of when I was younger and could hear. And so I feel younger. And then older. And so on. One of the biggest changes is the loss of anxiety.
Life is more pleasurable compared to what it was. I’m not saying I didn’t get to experience joy before my CI, it’s just that hearing people are flying business class in terms of the perks available. I have more time to live my life now I don’t have to worry about and plan my access. The world sounds pleasant and often beautiful. I enjoy music. There is orchestral music in public transport. Pleasure and human warmth is easily accessible, and more frequent.
After both scratch performances a couple of hearing people have said to me privately that they’re a bit envious of my cyborg abilities, and of the hearing rehabilitation. I can bluetooth music directly into my brain without headphones, I can ‘shotgun mic’ sound in noisy places, and being reunited with sound after a long time means that some sounds seem heightened, science fiction-sh, and exciting. This makes hearing people feel envious. So I think the basic premise of the Holiday Selfie smugface is relevant to the show, but I need to work on the dramatic delivery of my cyborg superiority complex.
Other feedback included making the sound effects visual for deaf people. We have included foley effects which are visual but we Gemma spoke about including more sound effect visuals in our projected subtitles in a full show.
Gemma, Rob and I had a good time at scratch day at Pulse Festival in Ispwich. Rob’s sound effects went down a treat and the audience seemed to like the idea of Holiday Selfie.
We got our first review, very encouraging.
“Sophie Woolley’s sensory celebration, Holiday Selfie, is a journey back into the hearing world after years of deafness. A simple walk down the street becomes a cacophony of sound and even the flicking of a towel takes on symphonic proportions. There’s an unusual flavour to this show – some wonderfully odd imaginative leaps and jolting monologues – that feel truly original and suggest a woman who has had to rely on her own internal voice and world for a very long time.” Miriam Gillinson, Exeunt Magazine
We watched four other shows at the festival. I was astounded to be able to follow two of them without subtitles. Not just the gist, the whole story along with the dialogue. That’s the first time this has happened since I had my cochlear implant switched on and the first time in 20 years since the last time I could follow theatre without subtitles.
In my pre-implant, deaf days, I’d scuttle off home after my own performance, feeling a bit rude and stand offish, even though it wasn’t my fault. But being more able to follow other people’s work meant I felt part of the festival and got to engage with other performers.
The shows I could follow were the truly enjoyable and brilliant Son and Heir (search Party) and Gym Party (Made in China).
Son and Heir by Search Party
In her infinite wisdom, director Gemma decided I should eat marshmallows through one of the scenes. Today we tried it out. “Eat them all through the scene” she said. Then I had to do the bit where I spin round in an office chair. Round and round, followed by my sexy dance scene. I feel amazing now. Bleh.
We also ran through all of Rob’s exciting sound art cues in order today. I loved the new foley sound effects we came up with.
I realised that I would have to perform the piece using the “music” program on my implant processor. This program has a wider IDR (my CI has 5 different programs) and is the best one for my performance because it helps me judge how loud to pitch my voice over the sound effects. My ‘everyday’ program dampens some of the sound effects so as to home in on speech better, which isn’t as helpful onstage. I decided not to use my ultrazoom program onstage because that might zoom me in on all the little noises the audience makes.
We’re hard at work, just two days before the Pulse Festival in Ispwich (12pm on Saturday 31 May). Meanwhile Gemma has created an edited highlights from Sophie’s switch on video. We’ve been discussing the switch on a fair bit because the script and sound art focuses on the strange sound effects just after cochlear implant switch on.
NB There is no audio on this video apart from dramatic film trailer style music.
As our show is all about Sophie’s life after her switch on we have been talking a lot about the actual operation and the switch on itself. This seems to be quite a zeitgeist topic with switch on videos on youtube getting millions of hits. So we thought we’d do our own. We can’t guarantee it will be as uplifting as some of the others but it is all true.
We have been working on the warping sound effects on Sophie’s voice to replicate how she sounded to herself in the weeks after switch on.
We also played with objects to see if we could create foley sound effects similar to what Sophie heard after ‘switch on’ and recorded things with an underwater mic.
Gemma and Rob create foley sound effects
This morning Sophie was photographed by The Guardian, for an article to be published next month.
Back to the selfies now….
I went to see the brilliant Lucy Ellison in Grounded this week. We chatted afterwards and I told her my new piece, Holiday Selfie, was autobiographical. Lucy sagely warned me to look after my sanity. At yesterday’s script meeting I did have to start talking about myself in the third person because it was getting confusing. So I was calling myself ‘she’ as though I’m a character. I rambled and Director Gemma Fairlie listened and questioned, and found patterns, themes and structures in the material.
And then we stickied.
Yesterday sound artist, Rob Hart, played back what he had created since our Tuesday meeting. The first noise – running tap water – was a good match for how it sounded to me in the first two weeks after my CI was switched on. The CI sound effect for baby crying was also spot on (sounds like a pterodactyl). The larger sounds proved to be more tricky to get right. This was because planes and cars had unexpected, counter intuitive things going on, sound wise, that took a lot more explaining, so Rob will work on those some more.
Rob had also created a ‘deaf street’ noise by recording a street soundscape and then removing frequencies, based on what I’d told him about what I hear via a hearing aid rather than a CI. He played me the deaf soundscape first. It was quite ‘bassy’, just an ominous rumble. Then I listened to the ‘before’ recording. There was a lot going on, people chattering, doors closing, footsteps, different forms of traffic…it was a recognizable street sound.
Then Rob played me some music, I listened to it ‘blind’ using just my old hearing aid in my non implanted ear. It was some laid back dubstep but my description went “Ugh that’s, that’s really disgusting, white noise, static, a man I think, screeching tunelessly as though he’s lost his voice – I can’t hear any rhythm…” Then I listened to the track with my CI and it sounded fine. The next track had a guitar high in the mix. I heard this as a bassline through the vibration in the table. I believed I was ‘hearing’ it, then I took my hand off the table and could no longer ‘hear’ it. I found this interesting as I never really thought I got much gain from music vibrations when deaf. But here my brain was clearly using vibrations and tricking me into thinking it was sound. I do find I’m more aware these days of how my brain uses vibrations when I take my CI off (to shower, to swim, to sleep), maybe because it’s no longer my ‘norm’.
I don’t know how many of these exact sounds will make it into our show, we’re just seeing how close Rob’s computer programs can replicate what I heard in the first few weeks after my CI switch on, when I felt that I’d entered an alternate universe.
Back to my writing desk this morning. I’m writing as many scenes as possible which we’ll play with in the rehearsal room this afternoon.
Taking inspiration from director Gemma’s recent trip to Thorpe Park I decided that this might be a good metaphor for my experience. So we’ve been playing with ideas for setting the story within a ‘Hearing World of Adventures’ framework.
Many of the things I can now experience, that I couldn’t hear pre-implant, might seem mundane, but to me they were an exhilarating adventure. For example – “I can hear when the kettle has finished boiling!”
The initial process of my hearing rehabilitation was thrilling, overwhelming – a scream! Amusement Parks are constructed realities and my switch on was like entering a parallel universe where everything sounded heightened and cartoonish. Achieving a new everyday task (like hearing and answering a door intercom) was a rollercoaster ride, involving disbelief, anxiety and ultimately, chest-bursting waves of joy and exhilaration.
So with this in mind, Gemma forced me to go on imaginary theme park rides in our Marylebone rehearsal space and give a running commentary. She’s doing this to loosen my writing up and make it more physically visual. She then threatened to take me to do some research on a Dance Craze game soon.
On the first day of rehearsals I also worked with sound artist, Rob Hart, bombarding him with descriptions of how ‘far out’ things sounded initially after switch on – before my brain learnt to work with the implant to make everything sound normal . He really gets what I’m aiming at with the sound art for this show and I can’t wait to see what we come up with. the aim is to try and externalize the weird and wonderful soundscape that only cochlear implant users can experience.