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Curtain Call Theatre Podcast

What do David Morrissey, Gemma Chan, Noma Dumezweni, Mark Strong, John Goodman and David Suchet and have in common?... They've all been on the Curtain Call Theatre Podcast! The only podcast that will bring you backstage during a show to place you where drama is actually created. With access like no other podcast has, join us in the wings and the dressing rooms to join the company
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Now displaying: June, 2017
Jun 30, 2017

Earlier in the week, you may have heard Andrew Higgins, one of the dynamic duo of sign language interpreters that worked the West End Live event in Trafalgar Square last weekend. And it wouldn’t be a complete week without brining you Andrew’s partner in crime, Jack. There were videos aplenty of Jack getting down to Thriller, giving attitude during Dreamgirls and dancing seductively during Beautiful. I wanted to talk to Jack to get his experience of that memorable weekend and how he got into the business of sign language interpreting for live events.

Jun 27, 2017

Last weekend saw the return of West End Live to Trafalgar Square. 57 performances over two days (and that’s just the shows!) ensured that the huge audiences were wowed by a brilliant turnout of the West End’s most popular shows including Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Les Mis, Half a Sixpence, Annie, Jesus Christ Superstar and many, many more.

However, what was unexpected was the performances from the sign language interpreters at the side of the stage. Andrew Higgins and Jack Flavell came close to stealing the show. As the day went on, more and more people started to appreciate the hard work going into their performances. And yes, if any of you listening saw their performances being tweeted and shared across the social media platforms you will also appreciate just how much energy they were putting into it. A huge hit, and hopefully a mainstay as long as West End Live is around. I got to speak to Andrew about his experience and how he came to be on the stage last weekend. It’s a brilliant story and it’s great to be able to share it here today.

 

 

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Full Transcript of Podcast:

 

Hi. John Schwab here from Curtain Call and welcome to episode 52 of the Curtain Call Theatre podcast – the podcast that brings you backstage as close as you possibly can be, often while the shows are actually happening, to meet the people that make theatre happen.

 

I’d like to apologise to everyone for not getting an episode out last week, but don’t you worry, we are going to be making up for that in spades with this week’s podcast, including a bonus episode later this week.

 

Now…if you’d like to hear more exclusive backstage chats and see just as exclusive backstage photography, head on over to curtaincallonline.com to discover loads of content that we are constantly updating and adding to. You’ll also find photographic prints, news stories, blog posts and much, much more.

 

We also have some final free Curtain Call Pro profiles to give away. By signing up for a FREE, that’s right, FREE profile you can let the world know what you’ve been up to on stage AND screen. You’ll also get a year’s free use of all of the professional profile tools that we are launching later this summer, and that’s as a “thank you” for getting on our site early. Just go to our membership page, sign up and use the code CCPRO100. No credit card required, as there’s no need for payment and there’s less than 50 left now. Once they are gone, they are gone.

 

One year ago, we launched this podcast. It’s been a fantastic year and I have absolutely loved putting together these podcasts and bringing you stories from behind the curtains with actors, stage management, directors, playwrights, chaperones, musicians…You name it, they have been represented on this podcast.

 

If you’ve liked listening, please go over to iTunes and for a birthday present, rate and review us so that more people can join you in listening to us here at Curtain Call. I thank you in advance.

 

And now…for this week’s podcast.

 

Last weekend saw the return of West End Live to Trafalgar Square. 57 performances over two days (and that’s just the shows!) ensured that the huge audiences were wowed by a brilliant turnout of the West End’s most popular shows including Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Les Mis, Half a Sixpence, Annie, Jesus Christ Superstar and many, many more.

 

However, what was unexpected was the performances from the sign language interpreters at the side of the stage. Andrew Higgins and Jack Flavell came close to stealing the show. As the day went on, more and more people started to appreciate the hard work going into their performances. And yes, if any of you listening saw their performances being tweeted and shared across the social media platforms you will also appreciate just how much energy they were putting into it. A huge hit, and hopefully a mainstay as long as West End Live is around. I got to speak to Andrew about his experience and how he came to be on the stage last weekend. It’s a brilliant story and it’s great to be able to share it here today.

 

Have a listen.

 

John Schwab: I’ve don’t think I’ve ever sat down and had a cht with someone of your experience. Can you explain what you do after you introduce yourself?

 

Andy Higgins: Yes. So, my name is Andy Higgins. I’m a sign language interpreter and I’ve been working around the UK doing signed theatre performances for the last sixteen years.

 

JS: Sixteen years?!

 

AH: Yes.

 

JS: You must have a pretty impressive CV then, for sixteen years.

 

AH: Yes. Within my career I’ve probably done about 60 different performances. Until it comes to panto and then we’re into a different realm where every year, as an interpreter, I usually do around eleven or twelve different pantomimes in a six week run. So that keeps me incredibly busy until January when I sort of pull the back of my shirt label and check my name and go, “I’m not Cinderella at this theatre, or I’m not Dick Whittington from this venue. I’m definitely Andy Higgins.”

 

JS: Excellent. So, Andy, was that a career path that you saw? What was your background? Did you have an active interest in theatre growing up? What was your ‘in’, as it were, to the industry?

 

AH: Basically, I started interpreting when I used to work for the local authority up in Manchester twenty years ago. A deaf person came to me signing on the reception. He was signing away to me and I couldn’t understand sign language…and he was quite rude to me. Off away he walked and an hour later his social worker came to apologise. She told him off that being rude to a council worker wasn’t acceptable. But she was also deaf and I couldn’t communicate with her. So I asked if the council would pay for me to do a sign language course and they said “no.” And as people will know, in Manchester we don’t give up very easily. We always keep going. So I enrolled myself in a Level 1 sign language course and it really went from there. And after about three years of really rigourous signing, two nights a week getting involved…doing lots of activities within the deaf community…I started interpreting, which is a little bit rare but just is the path that I seemed to fall into.

 

JS: That’s a great backstory. Working for a council is quite a long way from being in front of 1200 people in a panto. What was the next thing that happened to get you on stage?

 

AH: I love theatre. I love going to watch theatre. I remember going to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat with Stephen Gately as the lead in Liverpool.

 

JS: I remember that production, which kind of shows my age just a little bit…

 

AH: Me too!

 

(laughter)

 

AH: After seeing that production of Joseph in Liverpool…and interpreted performance…the interpreter was a deaf gentleman by the name of Paul Whittaker who had been doing signed theatre for many year. His first performance was a production of Joseph at the London Palladium in 1992. Back in the early 90’s and before that, there were no signed performances. So if you were profoundly deaf and a sign language user, theatre wasn’t accessible.

 

JS: I did not know that.

 

AH: Yeah. It’s a big recent change. So he was a pioneer of getting signed theatre and access for the theatre out and about in the regions. I then saw him after the performance and said, “I want to do that!” That was the February and in the following May I was given the first tour to do with UK Productions of Fiddler on the Roof. And Paul still says, to this day, that he gave it to me because he didn’t know how to interpret the second line to “If I was a Rich Man.”

 

JS: I was just about to say…Okay…the lyrics of “Rich Man”: If I were a rich man, there’s a lot of ya da da da da da’s.

 

AH: Correct.

 

JS: How funny. And how did that go Andrew?

 

AH: I loved the tour. It was about eight venues around the UK. And it’s scary going out on stage and thinking “I’m translating in a completely different language. Giving the rhythm, the harmony, the melody, the form, the pitch the music and then the emotion of the characters on the stage…and not even being Jewish…it felt a weight to give. I’m not an actor. I love acting and I’ve done stuff when I was younger. But, I am definitely the vehicle and the conduit. Basically, an actor is borrowing my hands and a deaf person is borrowing my ears.

 

JS: You just mentioned that you’re not an actor. So take me through your first performance in front of an audience and how did you feel?

 

AH: My first performance in front of an audience? Wow! Terrified, actually. Because I’d spend a large amount of time with the script. I’ve watched the show twice and then I have to go on stage and replicate that. Very often as an interpreter when you’re signing a show you don’t get a lot of time to prepare. And that’s a skill in itself – a very quick bit of preparation. It would be wonderful to have a photographic memory and an audible recording memory so that you’re replaying everything you’re hearing in your head to translate. Because I remember going out on stage for Fiddler on the Roof and thinking “I can hear the drummer and the drummer sounds amazing, but I can’t hear the actors singing.” And I thought, “Is that me? Is that a mental block? Nooo!” But actually the place I had been placed on stage was too far away from the actors who were using amplification. So they weren’t particularly singing or speaking very loud and I was behind the speaker stack. So I was actually in a sound void. The closest audible instrument wasn’t a voice, it was the drums!

 

JS: How nice of them to do that. I have experience of having an interpreter on stage and I always find those shows exhilarating because there’s another voice on stage that you’re not used to having. I was in Reduced Shakespeare Company for years and we spoke so quickly but we actually involved the interpreter in our show. We made him the fourth character. Have you come across that in shows? And I’m leading up to West End Live which was incredible. Have you been involved as a cast member, as it were, in any of the shows.

 

AH: Recently, something happened that was quite funny. I was translating Sister Act over in Stoke. And unfortunately there was just this one slight moment during the scene where they’ve taken the taxi and are about to kill him for the second time and go, “Who did you take to the police station?! Who did you take to the police station?!” And he’s got a gag in this mouth and he’s going “(mumbling sounds)” and making a lot of noise. At which point I’m signing away and suddenly went “(mumbling sounds)”. No idea. I turned around, and hadn’t quite realized that they were only four feet from me. And the actors just looked at each other, they looked at him and said, “Who did you take?” and he went, “(mumble)”. Then they looked at me for the translation and the only thing I could do was throw my hands up in the air as if to go, “I don’t know! I might be an interpreter but…” Pantomime is the one time of the year where they all include the interpreter – throwing words in like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Or they’ll throw water at you or gunge at you and it’s always great fun. And, definitely, deaf audiences always find that fantastic. One of the most memorable moments being involved in a piece of theatre was working on Rocky Horror in full outfit with various narrator who just decided to go completely off script to see how the interpreter is going to translate something. While the script only has one particular swear word or one item that is rude, it’s all about your imagination. The role of the interpreter is not to sign, literally, the script – it’s to sign what is meant by what is said…And that’s always quite funny, especially with Rocky Horror.

JS: You know I have got to end with West End Live. You guys had a busy weekend. You guys were the hit of the show, you and Jack. It was incredible to watch your interpretations of the 57 performances that happened over the weekend. There are videos of you all over the internet signing to Thriller, Matilda to Dreamgirls. You and Jack had a brilliant weekend. What was it like for you and will you be coming back?

AH: This was the first time Jack and I have worked together. So doing West End Live this year was a really great experience of putting all of our musical knowledge together to bring it to one event. Yes, there were 57 performances, but it was seven hours the first day and six hours the next day. And it was crazy, continuous interpreting bar two performances. But actually that came out as 116 different songs to translate, 116 songs to sign, 116 songs to prep, 116 times doing, “Okay! We can do this!!!” Some songs we knew really well because we’ve don’t them before. And some songs we were going “We can’t hear these!” But we really supported each other, which was great fun.

JS: With the love that you got from all of the new Twitter fans and everything else, are you looking forward to returning next year? I think you might see some t-shirts with your faces on them.

AH: T-shirts with our faces on them might be a little strange but we had a great time. I think the highlight for me was some of the Les Mis parts and the Disney parts. But actually the Twitter response, once we were told by the organisers that we were trending on the Twitter page for “West End Live” and “Interpreter” and “Signer” and “BSL”…we then went and had a look when we had time and we were like, “Oh my gosh!” So we both had a really great time. We loved doing the translation. And when we got told about the Twitter trending for the hashtag “WestEndLiveInterpreter” and “Signer” and “BSL”, we were just overwhelmed. In all humbleness, we were just doing our job making sure that great performances got translated as best as we could. We had a fabulous time and hope that we get asked to come back next year.

JS: Well, we hope you get asked back next year, as well. It just added another element. I think Official London Theatre, SOLT and everyone that organizes that will see how much of a contribution you guys made to West End Live this year and how much people loved you. Andrew, that was awesome. I’m looking forward to speaking to your compadre, Jack. It was great to see you and thank you for your time. It was great. Thank you.

AH: Thank you. Bye.

(Music)

JS: Andrew Higgins there, sing language interpreter for West End Live 2017.

 

Now, before we wrap up.

 

And if you’re a theatre fan, get the same access to all of the exclusives that the professionals do by becoming a Curtain Call Insider. Head over to curtaincallonline.com and on the membership page, click on “Insider”. Simples.

 

You can follow us on all the socials Twitter/Instagram/ @curtaincall and Facebook at facebook.com/curtaincall

 

We’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions or feedback from the podcast, get in touch with us via any of the social media platforms I just mentioned, or write to me at john@curtaincallonline.com

 

I’d like to end with a big thank you to Andrew Higgins and Jack Flavell (who you will hear from shortly, I hope) for their time, both in talking to me today and also for playing such an integral and entertaining role in West End Live 2017. Long may they continue!

 

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of the Curtain Call Theatre Podcast. And catch you all next week. Bye.

 

Jun 13, 2017

20 years ago on the 12th of June 1997, a major new theatre opened on London’s South Bank. It was the dream of American actor and director Sam Wannamaker to bring back to life one of the theatres that gave birth to drama as we know it today. It took over a quarter of a century from inception to lights up, with Wannamaker initially launching the Shakespeare’s Globe Trust to fund the project. Unfortunately, Wannamaker died 3 and a half years before the doors were officially opened to audiences by Her Majesty the Queen. And it is a real shame that he never got to see what a huge success The Globe as become, completely transforming the area that surrounds it. But what a legacy he left behind.

 

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Jun 7, 2017

This week, to coincide with our piece written by Theo Bosanquet where he lists 10 of the best outdoor theatres around the world, I’d like to take you back to a chat I had with Andy Locke at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Andy is the Commercial Director, the first one of those we’ve had on this podcast. We sat down before a performance of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 2015 and the topics covered were what his job entails, coping with changing light and what makes performing on the iconic Regent’s Park stage such a special occasion to actors both new and old.

 

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