As founder Director of THEATRESIGN Terry Ruane has had a career in sign language Theatre that goes back to 1972 when he first joined the British Theatre of the Deaf under Pat Keysell. He was influential in guiding it towards professional status which was achieved in 1974 with the Edinburgh Fringe followed by a National tour of HASSAN directed by the RSC’s Clifford Williams.
As well as Company Manager, Terry subsequently became General Manager with overall responsibility for touring plus a Theatre in Education project set up for London schools. When Keysell left in 1977 the Arts Council of Great Britain encouraged Terry and Chris Harrowell to set up their own company, Interim Theatre Company which continued the work of the British Theatre of the Deaf and its Summer School and in turn this led to the establishment of other projects such as the TEADS Course at Reading University. In 1981 he was involved in setting up CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD in the West End at the same time as Interim presented its sign language production of EQUUS at the Young Vic which was attended by the play’s author Peter Shaffer. In 1984 he was able to get the “See Hear” team to present three annual Christmas specials, two were deaf-themed pantomimes which he wrote and another was INTERGRATION STREET by the late Dorothy Miles.
The first Sign Language Interpreted Performance in 1980 was THE MOUSETRAP in the West End followed by monthly signed interpretations of CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (because the play was performed in American Sign Language). Following these efforts, Terry felt strongly that any Theatre interpreting needed to be based on a performing and not just an interpreting approach.
Having the experience in theatre coupled with running a Sign Language Interpreting agency with Donna Ruane, Terry knew the direction he wanted to take.
THEATRESIGN was founded in 1998, originally servicing the West End and at some south east venues until the 2012 tour of THE LION KING vastly expanded the company into regional venues. Today THEATRESIGN is the largest provider of sign language interpreted performances in the UK with associated training courses to develop new Theatre Interpreters. Now ‘semi-retired’, Terry lives in West Sussex and continues to develop and enable new projects for the company, the most recent being the National Theatre At Home’s online BSL interpreted version of WAR HORSE.
Having grown up in a bilingual family (BSL/Eng), Donna is a native user of BSL. Her childhood and teens saw her studying all forms of performing arts with dance and musical theatre being her passion.
Upon leaving school Donna worked in an advice centre where she honed her people skills – meeting the needs of the local Deaf community and advising local business on how to become accessible. Here she met Terry who became her mentor – encouraging her to become a Qualified Interpreter. With her background in performing arts in common it wasn’t long before Donna was using her BSL skills on stage to bring Theatre to the Deaf community.
From pantomime in 1998 at the Churchill Theatre Bromley to ANNIE, RENT and THE LION KING in London’s West End, Donna expanded her portfolio rapidly adding The Laurence Olivier Awards and later GMTV. Donna found her calling, embraced each challenge and enjoyed being a part of the changing landscape of accessible theatre which was breaking down barriers for Deaf patrons.
Donna went on to qualify in 2000 and continued as Senior Interpreter for THEATRESIGN to interpret in the West End and UK wide while developing a clear understanding of the unique demands of theatre Interpreting as opposed to generic interpreting. This coupled with the limited number of interpreters available in this domain prompted the development of THEATRESIGNs first specialist training courses which she co-trained with Terry from 2009.
Seeing others develop and delivering training that was unique to THEATRESIGN became Donna’s focus as she knew that THEATRESIGN needed to grow and couldn’t do that without a bigger team.
As a believer of ‘everything happens for a reason’, Donna met Alexandra Shaw in 2012 and thus co-founded THEATRESIGN Education, Access and Mentoring Ltd and THEATRESIGN Training Ltd which have continued to expand upon the services and training already established.
One of Alexandra’s earliest recollections of “theatre” was growing up watching Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals at her grandparents’ house. She was influenced by the musical tastes of her family – including Queen and Australian country music – before stumbling across ABBA when introduced to sign singing. She saw a variety of shows on tour in Australia (without access), and was the Deaf Consultant for the first interpreted performance of WICKED in Perth in 2011. Alexandra’s love of music and theatre has stayed with her, and is one of the reasons she moved to London in 2012. She has seen the full spectrum of theatre, though musicals remain a firm favourite.
After meeting Donna by chance, Alexandra joined THEATRESIGN in September 2012 and began as an Assessor, going out to theatres to assess and feedback on the work of the THEATRESIGN interpreting team, as well as co-delivering a number of THEATRESIGN’s training sessions alongside Donna Ruane. Alexandra qualified as a Translator in 2015.
As THEATRESIGN continued to grow in line with the increase in the number of interpreted performances each year, auditions were held to expand the interpreting team.
Alexandra is THEATRESIGN’s coordinator and leads on logistics for training, auditioning and bookings.
After becoming Co-Director of THEATRESIGN Education, Access and Mentoring Ltd (TEAM – trading as THEATRESIGN) and THEATRESIGN Training Ltd in 2017, Alexandra is proud to see THEATRESIGN continue to provide high quality interpreters for shows, as well as providing access for a range of different events and is excited to be continually expanding the training programme portfolio.
THEATRESIGN is currently in a period of transition and we look forward to an exciting future.