Jean St Clair is currently playing Alice in The Meeting. She recently won Best Actress for the second time at Clin d’Oeil, the major French Deaf Film festival, for Signs of an Affair which she also wrote. She tells us about her role in the play, her career, and whether opportunities for deaf actors have improved.
Tell us about your character in The Meeting.
I play Alice who became deaf as a child and is the mother of Rachel, the protagonist in the play. Alice has moved into the Quaker community, due to Rachel marrying Adam. Rachel is the only one in the community who can communicate with her, despite living in the Quaker community for many years. However, she watches the others, revealing her strength later on in the play.
Did you know much about the Quaker community before you read the play?
A few years back, I watched an interesting TV programme about Sheila Hancock and her involvement with the Quakers and how she struggled to remain quiet in their meetings which I found interesting. And since the play, I found out that one of my close friends, a guy from the same classroom at school since I was eleven, that his parents lived in a Quaker village and went to a Quaker school. Also one of my friends who’s a BSL interpreter also went to a Quaker school. Had I known earlier, I would have asked them numerous questions about the Quaker community.
How did you become interested in acting?
It has always been in my blood. I’ve acted since I was 17 years old, starting with British Theatre of the Deaf which was an amateur group, before turning into a professional theatre company, run by Pat Keysell who worked on a TV programme called 'Vision On' with Tony Hart. One thing led to another and I’m still acting so I’ve been fortunate with my career.
Has the theatre industry changed for Deaf/deaf performers since you first began acting?
Oh yes, definitely. When I started out, there were barely any other deaf actors in the mainstream theatre/TV but now there are much more of them. It is also more accessible. With this production, we had two full-time British Sign Language interpreters during rehearsals but back in 1979 when I did the lead role as Gail in Hearing at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, we didn’t have any interpreters. Don’t ask me how I managed to get through rehearsals and the play itself with no access to BSL. There are much more opportunities opening up for deaf actors.
Tell us one thing you do to prepare yourself before going on stage?
Since I’ve had to speak, albeit briefly, on stage, I’ve had to warm up my voice which I’ve not done before.
What have you enjoyed most about performing at Chichester?
An amazing environment to work in and the sun is always shining!
Why do you think people should see the play?
It has everything in it…love, passion, betrayal, loss, with some humour thrown in.
The Meeting is now on in the Minerva Theatre until 11 August. Find out more.