Evie Waddell is a Gaelic and Scots singer, clarsach player, and fiddler, as well as being a contemporary dancer and step dancer. Evie is deaf/Hard of Hearing and focuses on weaving BSL into her traditional Gaelic and Scots songs. SNACK caught up with Evie to discuss her upcoming multimedia show, Fàilte gu BSL, showing at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival on 16th October.
Evie, could you tell us about your show?
‘Fàilte gu BSL’ in English means ‘Welcome to BSL’, and the project is for hearing and d/Deaf audiences. It’s a welcome for d/Deaf people to traditional Scottish Gaelic culture, which often hasn’t been accessible to them, as well as an invitation for hearing people to engage in BSL. The focus is on these two minority languages that have a real richness to them, and the performance shares Gàidhlig stories and songs and Scottish dance in a fun and accessible way.
Why did you make Fàilte gu BSL?
I just wanted to explore these two languages and these identities of mine: the Gaelic language, and being deaf in one ear. I’m working with a cast of myself, dancer Francesca Till and musician Katie Allen, and it’s a chance for us to explore both our deaf identities and Scottish identities. Working with the Gaelic theatre company Theatre Gu Leòr was my first time mixing these two languages and I found it really healing. This was a year ago, and we were meant to go on tour, but then the pandemic happened.
Could you tell me about the process of making the show?
Sometimes it was pretty confusing, working in all these different languages. Especially because not all of us could speak the same languages. Traditional music is an oral tradition and that’s quite difficult, so I wanted to make the performance more visual, with a projector and the dancing, lighting, and signing.
Signing really helps me connect more to the stories I’m singing; you either become the characters, or you’re talking about a character and placing them somewhere different. By physicalizing it, I feel more engaged with the songs and the stories I’m telling, the motions of them, and I feel more present with the visual and sound imagery. Some of the music is off my soon-to-be released debut EP – so it’s a sneak preview!
Tell us about your deafness, and how it relates to your music.
I learned traditional music growing up, and when I became completely deaf in one ear at the age of 11, it changed how I partake in music. Large groups are difficult. Lots of being a d/Deaf musician is about the communication and the planning, even before you get to the music part. Not everyone is so deaf-aware, so I have to be kind of picky about who I work with, who I think can communicate with; if they can speak clearly, if they remember to face me. It’s just nice if I’m working with people that I don’t have to constantly remind to repeat themselves.
What would you like people to take away from the show?
Gàidhlig is a part of Scottish culture, and d/Deaf people need access to it. Some of them want to know more about it! The idea of blending deafness and music: lots of people think ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ But there definitely are ways and lots of deaf people do enjoy music; it’s a spectrum. After watching the show, I hope that hearing people are inspired to engage more with d/Deaf culture and language; I hope I’ve connected with everyone in some way. On 16th October there’ll be a workshop for both d/Deaf and hearing people to try out some things like [traditional working folk song] Waulking the Tweed, step dancing, and learning a bit of a Gàidhlig-signed song, and there’ll be an interpreter at the workshop.
Fàilte gu BSL/Welcome to BSL is at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh, on 16th October. The main event is at 8.30pm, with an earlier workshop at 1pm.
Photo credit: Christian-Alexandru Popa