Last weekend, Route Arts Association’s play “Muted” humouredly portrayed scenes of the daily life of hearing-impaired people. mART watched one of the group’s rehearsals at the Macau Cultural Centre and witnessed how you don’t need language to get a message across.

By Sofia Jesus

Light and sound effects, facial expressions and a lot of body language have showed audiences at the Macau Cultural Centre (CCM) that communication relies less on words than on will.

“Muted” is a funny, mime-based, interactive, 45-minute long play created and performed by Route Arts Association. It was shown last weekend at CCM, as part of its Open Box 2016 series.

The audience watches the play sitting on colourful pillows on the floor. And as the play goes on – portraying comic situations in the daily life of hearing-impaired people –, the actors help the audience to move to other spots, to watch the play from different angles, as it is being performed on different stages.

Members of the audience are also invited to get on stage at a certain point, to help one of the characters tell another one his house is on fire – without using any words. It all happens between two rooftops, as light and sound effects – such as those of birds and crackling fire – tell us.

muted rooftop scene

All about communication

In a written reply to mART, director Nada Chan says she “and the performers” created “Muted”, in a brainstorming process firstly led by her, but in which actors later took part, throwing out “ideas on their own”. “I am the one to group them into a play,” she adds.

Ms Chan explains the play is about “the communication culture of hearing-impaired people”, their “thinking concept” and “their daily life experience”. The idea first came to her during the Macau City Fringe Festival, in 2014, when she joined French mime master Philippe Bizot’s workshop.

“I met a group of hearing-impaired people, found that they are very interested in performing, but just have no platform” to do it, she says. Similarly to mime, they used “facial expression, body, and sign language” to communicate in their daily life. “They have great potential in mime performance, so I asked them to work on this project.”

But Ms Chan stresses she does not want the audience to come to this performance thinking it would watch disabled performers act. “Hearing-impaired people just have a different communication method with us,” she says, adding she wished the audience could feel how interesting that is.

blue me

Ms Chan looks back at when she was a little girl and her grandmother went to visit her from her village in Mainland China. She stayed at Ms Chan’s home, but she didn’t speak Cantonese. “So, I didn’t talk with her.” Now, Ms Chan believes that was “just an excuse”, as are common expressions such as “don’t understand” or “not dare”. Because if you want to communicate, “no matter what kind of barrier” you find, “you can make each conversation a success” – you just need to take “longer time” and “different ways”, Ms Chan says. “Attitude is the most important part of communication.”

“The importance is [in] the willingness [to] listen, or if you already have your own standpoint before you start the conversation,” Ms Chan observes. “If you don’t understand others, it is because you never stand on others’ position,” she points out.

muted florence

A matter of attitude

“Communication is not only the language or the words we speak. Attitude is more important,” actress Rosa Cheong also tells mART, after a rehearsal.

“The language is not important, as long as we open our hearts and are willing to communicate with each other. […] It is a two-way communication, not a one-way,” adds actress Florence Leong. Sometimes, she says, all it takes is “an eye contact”.

Dancer Michael Lao is one of the three hearing-impaired actors in the play, in which a total of seven actors perform. Speaking to mART through sign language – translated by an interpreter – he says he really enjoyed taking part in the play, as all team members co-operated with each other and shared “a good experience” on stage – an experience he wishes to continue to have in the future.

Daily situations illustrated in the play may be exaggerated – like in the fire incident. But Mr Lao says there are indeed difficult situations, as when he goes to the doctor and the doctor is wearing a mask.

Ms Leong says this experience in acting together with hearing-impaired people showed her it is possible to communicate “normally” in these situations. “Because they have good body language; better than us [hearing actors].”

“I learned a lot from them [hearing-impaired performers],” Ms Leong adds, hailing her colleagues’ “positive attitude”, even throughout rehearsals that lasted until late at night.

muted michael lao

Ms Chan stresses the group’s performance is meant to “let everybody [be] aware that there is a group of hearing-impaired people, to share their communication culture, not to speak for them” or let people know of their demands. But she says there is a lack of sign language interpreters in Macau, and added that if someone in the audience would end up wanting to join that career or to learn more about hearing-impaired people, that would be “a bonus for the play”.

The association

Created in October 2012, Route Arts Association has since then been exploring “the possibility of multi-arts development in Macau,” Ms Chan says. “We hope to accumulate more and more experiences step by step,” she adds.

In 2013, the association created and performed the piece “Who am I?,” combining “multimedia and physical theatre”. “This was the first play that began to bring the mime show into the theatre of Macau,” Ms Chan says.

In the following year, the group took part in the Macau Fringe Festival, having performed then with French mime master Philippe Bizot. In December 2014, the association went to Taiwan, where its members met master of pantomime Yao Sun Teck. “[He] taught us to explore and perform mime with our bodies,” the director explains.

In 2015, the association performed “Fuga do Mimo de Macau” (The escape of Macau’s mime, in English), guiding audiences “to weave through alley ways of Macau and explore art from [the point of view of] their daily life”.