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Opera for the Deaf

Release Date: X 2019
Total Time: 47:46
DVD | 16 page booklet | ekopack

Libretto: Wojtek Zrałek-Kossakowski / Adam Stoyanov

Directing and dramaturgy: Wojtek Zrałek-Kossakowski / Michał Mendyk

Choreography: Karol Tymiński

Music: Robert Piotrowicz

Film directing and cinematography: Zuzanna Solakiewicz / Zvika Gregory Portnoy

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The intuition about what the world of the Deaf could look like came at the very end. After going through all of the obligatory points in these kinds of projects: about exclusion, clash of cultures, violence and liberation. A shadow of an understanding flickered into existence in a moment of greatest misunderstanding—when the hearing musicians, directors, librettists and the Deaf actors, poets and dancers were unable to create an ending together for the “Opera for the Deaf”, a piece they had been all working on. That is why the performance, which premiered in November 2018 at the STUDIO The­atre Gal­leryin Warsaw, has two different endings and essentially tells two different stories, although they share the same order of scenes, images and sounds.


The problems is not only the fact that they mean something entirely different to the two groups of viewers, but also that they are experienced by them in an entirely different way. The Deaf do not hear sounds, but they can feel many of them. Thus, baroque opera, disco or heavy metal are not perceived as beautiful or ugly, but rather as pleasant or unpleasant.

A different experience of reality brings with it a radically different method of describing it. The world of sign language is far more matter-of-fact, plastic, emotional, and far less conventional, metaphoric, abstract. Its specific sublimation, sign poetry, can be described as a unique hybrid of literature, pantomime and dance. In its essence it remains untranslatable into the concepts of the hearing world to the same degree as the categories of “harmony” or “melody” cannot be translated into sign language. As Oliver Sacks pointed out, the key and very musical (and thus quite surprising) feature of sign language is its four-dimensional character. The story told by a Deaf poet is not linear like the logical discourse of phonic speech or alphabetic writing. Its sense emerges at the intersection of the choreography of two independent hands and the mimetic “movie” of the face.

The Deaf searched to express their identity and their alienation in forms to which they seemed naturally predestined: in the perfectly untranslatable sign poetry, in theatre created solely for non-hearing audiences and, last but not least, in the formerly popular universe of silent film. And the latter was finally chosen as the most interesting space for the meeting of the two cultures. We wished for the “Opera for the Deaf” to be able speak to everybody. To the Deaf—as a story of the “Island”. To the Hearing—also as a story about sound which can suddenly become oppressive, despite the fact that they love it so much. The ending remains open, but in a completely different manner than in the original performance.

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