“To see someone like yourself onscreen is to know that you can do it” – how Strictly star Rose has inspired me

The Garage participant Paris. Plus Giovanni and Rose from Strictly Come Dancing

Members of The Garage’s Theatre Company or Youth Forum may have spotted a familiar face if they were watching Strictly Come Dancing a few weeks back.

Paris Thompson appeared in a film about EastEnders’ actress Rose Ayling-Ellis and professional dance partner Giovanni Pernice’s visit to Deafinitely Theatre, a theatre company with only deaf people.

The 17-year-old shares what it was like meeting Rose, what her involvement in Strictly means for the D/Deaf community and the importance of diversity onscreen. She also talks about her fundraising role with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and Premier Inn.

It was an amazing day. We did a workshop and played drama games. Then we met Rose and Giovanni and got to ask questions about Strictly – which they have to win.

I’ve wanted to be an actress for as long as I can remember, and I will keep going until I am one.

The first time I acted in a play was probably when I was around six. I was in Where The Wild Things Are and no one could hear me underneath my mask because I spoke so quietly. Then I was Jane Banks in Mary Poppins, which I absolutely loved. This all definitely sparked a love of acting in me.

I was also in a short film called CODA by BSL Zone which just fueled the fire for acting. I’ve acted locally with The Garage in Norwich too.

Rose told us if you really love acting, keep going with it. Even if you get rejected from auditions etc. you can do it – your deafness is not a barrier. She has really inspired me because she’s just like me, and she’s done everything I’d like to do.

To see someone like yourself onscreen is to know that you can do it. Representation onscreen, onstage, anywhere… It’s hard to explain why it’s important unless you note the absence of it and that feeling when you do see someone like you.

Rose been amazing on Strictly – raising deaf awareness, talking about accessibility, and using British Sign Language (BSL) and sign supported English (SSE).  It really opens up opportunities.

It’s great to see another deaf person speak English and sign alongside, which you don’t see much on TV screens. This just shows that deaf people communicate in different ways not just no voice signing BSL.

I was born deaf and had two hearing aids up to the age of 13 when I lost my hearing in one side from severe to profoundly deaf and went for a cochlear implant.

Now I have two cochlear implants in a wonderful blue colour which you can spot from about a mile off. No point in hiding it, you’ll see them first.

Due to my involvement with GOSH as a cochlear implant patient there, I’ve done speeches for them and with Premier Inn’s fundraising appeal which has raised a staggering £10million.

I was recently involved in their Christmas Carol Concert, where I met many amazing actors and actresses – for example, Jason Isaacs (I love Harry Potter so that was amazing), Samantha BondEmilia Fox and more.

I’ve had a range of experiences in education – deaf schools and mainstream schools. Being with both deaf and hearing people has its good parts and hard parts. I communicate by speaking, but I can also sign BSL/SSE.

I also love creative writing and, more recently, I’ve been writing lyrics which I find so much fun. I started a few years ago with The Garage Youth Forum, making live music events, managing and promotion etc.

It’s amazing to have a place like The Garage locally. It’s so important that more cities have venues like it too. The Garage is amazing – very supportive of people with disabilities and willing to make changes to help me and other people.

More recently, I’ve seen more deaf people on TV and stage. It really does make it more accessible for me. It gives me hope that as a society we are changing, to help deaf and disabled people, and open more doors for them.

The Coronavirus pandemic really highlighted the topic of access to the arts and made us, as a society and as individuals, talk about diversity in the arts. This is amazing, and it’s much more of what we need.

But there are still changes that we need to happen. We need more diversity, we need more doors being opened for people like me, disabled or deaf. We need an understanding of this disability and not to just shrug shoulders and say: “It doesn’t matter”. It does.

We need to make our society, and TV screens and stages a more inclusive environment and fun to be in. I think we’re making steps in the right direction. Which would not be me if I was on Strictly, I’d just end up falling on my two left feet.

General booking for next year’s classes is now open. Spring term begins 10 January.

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