I met Glasgow-based Singaporean Ramesh Meyyappan in late 2011 when the deaf actor had come to stage Snails & Ketchup in Singapore. After an evocative, silent performance which held the audience spellbound and soundless, an interview followed via e-mail.
Two and a half years later, Meyyappan (below) is returning with Butterfly at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from July 17 to 19. So another e-mail interview ensued, where the actor previews his life and latest stage offering:
Challenges of growing up deaf
I'd like to think that all of us - no matter who we are - face some challenges in life while growing up. My particular challenges were about access - ensuring I had the same access as normal children to opportunities and to education in particular. Primary school was fine as the teachers used my language - sign language - to teach.
Secondary education was more challenging as none of the teachers used sign language and there were only about four sign language interpreters in the whole school. This meant that I'd often be in a class without interpreters - so much of the teaching and learning was not accessible.
Creating a niche in theatre, we deaf don't like to consider that we have a "handicap" or disability. Many of us prefer to say we are deaf and it is others who disable us if communication is not open or facilitated. I wanted to ensure that the communication I used when performing was understood by all and, therefore, explored and developed various forms of visual work.
The challenge continues to being visually creative with my work and developing a visual theatrical vocabulary. This I've managed to do fairly successfully so far. I continue to explore different visual elements and consider how these can be employed within the narrative being performed.
Snails & Ketchup was a good example of this - using aerial choreography to support the story. Next, in September I'll be using Bouffon (very visual characterisations) in Smokies, a production I'm directing.
I like the idea that being deaf doesn't affect how I work but rather provides me with a challenge - to make what I do accessible to everyone regardless of language.
I was born in a small rural village in southern India and as an infant my parents decided to move our family to Singapore in an attempt to ensure both my sister and myself, being deaf, got access to education catering to our condition. My brother, his sons and some cousins still live in India.
Growing up in Singapore, my parents would take us back to India to visit family and also to ensure we got a sense of where we came from.
I visited India a few years ago for work. A friend in Liverpool was making a documentary film and asked me to be involved in teaching at the schools there - some for the deaf.
We were mostly around Jaipur and Jodphur and like most visitors were struck by the vibrancy of the colours. I wasn't surprised - instead I was impressed by the richness of culture and the warm welcome we received.
Moving to Scotland
I moved to Scotland in 2008 to be with my Scottish wife Karen Lorimer, who needed to be with her family for some time there.
I have to give Karen credit for helping me to become who I am. She is very influential because she listens to me, gives me so much time, supports and encourages me, keeps me sane and makes me smile. She is very honest too and keeps me grounded.
Aware that I was going to be in Scotland for a while, I had to create opportunities for myself to continue to work. This took considerable effort. No one in Scotland was really aware of my work, who I was and what I did, and so making contacts and getting myself "known" took some effort.
I'm currently in a position whereby there are more opportunities for me - there is support and at the moment it makes sense to be there.
Home in Singapore
My family is still in Singapore and I do regard Singapore as home and return fairly frequently. Whenever I have a new project I feel it is important to take it home - to Singapore. Long-term future? There is always an option to return and settle in Singapore but that decision hasn't been made yet.
In Butterfly, inspired by the short story Madame Butterfly by John Luther Long, I will be using choreography and introducing a new visual element - puppetry. However this is not a puppet show. I will be directing and performing it alongside two actors.
Thoughts from the original Madame Butterfly include cultural differences and diverse expectations between men and women, as well as the trust from a woman and her betrayal and disappointment.
However, the most powerful image created was how her child was taken from her - evoking much emotion based on her loss. It was this final image/thought that really inspired a desire to create Butterfly.
In life, most of us suffer some loss - it has various guises and impact on us at different levels. This seemed like a "theme" worth exploring, one that was universal and one that would almost definitely evoke some empathy.
There came a sense of wanting to explore how grief and loss manifest themselves both physically and emotionally. I do understand the loss of a child and it cannot be fully explained in words - the emotion is intense and overwhelming. It can and does impact one's daily life and make it difficult. This is a huge part of Butterfly.
Butterfly will be staged from July 17 to 19 at 8pm at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.
Get a copy of tabla! for more stories.