Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Family Circus Hits Dublin

Guest blog from Genevieve's tour with the play Translations.

"A happy family is but an earlier heaven" George Bernard Shaw

Last week I talked about the futility of trying to keep the performance of 'Translations' the same. That in my exhaustion lay the very premise that I could no longer hold onto a concrete emotion if it was repeated night after night.

A short summary of 800 words or so in my last blog.

It is now Friday night and the pubs in Dublin, all 1,000 of them, have closed for Good Friday. Dublin is now like a ghost town - eerily quiet and the weather came to serve this purpose as snow has been sprinkling down on the city all day. The streets are empty except for the tourists and the taxi drivers, and those in the know who have gathered at O'Connell Street station to buy a one-way ticket to nowhere. For Madigan's Bar at O'Connell Street station is one of the only licensed pubs to sell alcohol on Good Friday and in order to buy an alcoholic beverage, you have to purchase an inter-county train ticket.

My family are in town. And surprisingly, they are not cooped up at Madigan's drinking Guinness. Instead they are sitting but 50 yards from me, encamped in the second row of the Gaiety Theatre waiting for me to come on stage. And the opening night nerves are back.

My family consists of my mum and dad, my 24 year old Antonia and twins Robbie and Sabrina who are 17 years old. My childhood was made up of haystacks, green fields, obstacle courses, a menagerie of animals and a lively chaotic home. My father in the kitchen cooking up a storm, my brother hitting a tennis ball outside, Sabrina encamped on the sofa and mum simultaneously doing the ironing whilst reprimanding her for not doing her homework. Antonia and I bickering away at each other, childishly but equally persistent in having the last word. Like Owen in Translations says "What's that smell this place has always had?", family and home immediately bring a sense of the familiar and yet a million juxtaposed memories come to the fore. Time and place incongruent but the essence always the same. A fiercely proud and protective bunch we are - and after six weeks we are together again.

When I was born deaf, the doctors told my parents that I would never be able to speak. My parents were told firmly that I would need to be sent away from a young age to a school for the deaf and that all my family and friends would have to learn sign language as a means of communicating to me. This was the appropriate response of the medical industry in the 1980s. But I was my mum and dad's first child - and this was far from the perfection one automatically expects with a newborn baby.

My mum fainted.

But, the moment they left the hospital with that news, their response to the doctors was a resounding no. They didn't follow the road that the experts had laid out so rationally. My mum would leave her job and teach me how to talk. I would go to a mainstream primary school, I would have hearing friends, I would have the life that they envisioned for me deaf or not deaf. No easy feat. And now after 27 years, it is possible to recognise that as a streak of stubbornness, denial and resistance to conformity so inherent in our family's genetic makeup as much as a show of brave resistance.

Teaching me to speak was painful. I was finally fitted with big hearing aids at the age of 4. My mum began the battle of teaching me to recognise that sound could be created and that it meant something. The kettle boiling, my father laughing, the knock on the front door. That these funny warblings that came out of people's mouths with these red lips moving unfathomably were a code for communication. That if you put two and two together, the code was cracked and you could understand them. It's entirely a logical premise.

But if the average person has a vocabulary of 2000 words, and every syllable enunciated and articulated has to be pieced together into a word - let alone a sentence, both my mother and I had a very steep hill to climb.

I can speak. I can speak more fluently than my parents even dreamed of. I've been able to follow my goals, ambitions, dreams - most of them, little hindered by my deafness. And whilst in the acting world, my voice is not perfect, I am carving a successful career for myself. And now with my first theatre role under my belt, my family are here tonight to witness that hard work and investment they made in me, the whole of my life. As our director often likes to say "No pressure".

There is an unforced irony that I'm playing a character who discovers her voice. Sarah, who doesn't speak until her love for Manus pours out of the woodwork, is impelled to speak a whole sentence for the first time. This cyclical nature of my mum watching her deaf daughter play a character who is trying to discover her voice is difficult to ignore. So I can't help but wonder what her response to the play will be. Suddenly I find an untapped emotion in this fear that it might bring back painful memories for her. I am desperate for them to be proud, not of me as their daughter, sister, for that is redundant, but of me in my transformation to a professional actress. It's never mattered so much.

The nerves which had finally started to subside have regurgitated again. The Pink Floyd are playing, the caffeine is kicking in and I am safely locked in my dressing room manifesting all sorts of distractions to prevent the sense of dread washing over me, that my family are lurking only a few feet away in the second row of the theatre. For who could be a more important audience?

I hope that at the end of the show, my mum will be able to turn to me and say "Genevieve, you've made it." And then we can all go and drink Guinness and count our blessings.

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