Jonny Cotsen is an Artist, Teacher, Father and Deaf man. He joined the Studio earlier in the year as part of the New Talent Residency Programme. In this talk he will talk about  his previous solo-show, ‘Louder Is Not Always Clearer’ which illustrated his struggles, in a hearing world. 'Louder is Not Always Clearer', was a story of a search for acceptance and one that also touched on Jonny's late introduction to the deaf community and deaf culture.

Five Things I Learned:

1. Growing up, Deaf wasn’t a word that was ever used in Jonny’s family. He didn’t go to a deaf school, nor did he learn how to sign language and instead underwent intensive speech therapy from a young age. Jonny spent a lot of his time lip reading, but was still caught between the hearing world and the Deaf. He learnt over time that the more confident you are the more you can get by. It wasn’t until he went to university that he felt that he really entered into the hearing world.

2. Being made redundant after working as a graphic designer was the best thing to happen to Jonny. It gave him space to experiment and to think about a new path to take. Much to his mum’s disapproval, Jonny decided to teach. After struggling to work at a rough school, he had an epiphany. It wasn’t the kids that were bad. In the end, Jonny quit because it was the school itself that wasn’t accessible to him. His mum had already foreseen this.

3. Jonny’s negative experiences led him to become passionate about improving accessibility in the arts. He became a consultant who advised theatre companies and worked with Arts Council Wales, who now have a free toolkit to make theatre accessible to Deaf audiences. Unfortunately, Jonny feels like a majority of organisations he advised were ticking boxes, rather than trying to implement any real sustainable change. That’s when Jonny said “fuck it, I’m going to perform”.

4. Expanding on his earlier exhibition work ‘Louder is Not Always Clearer’, Jonny wanted to create a theatre piece in reaction to obnoxious people shouting louder and louder at him when he didn’t understand them. National Theatre Wales had a great scheme for artist development to explore things non-verbally and learnt so much about hearing processes through the R&D phase. Mr and Mrs Clark Productions worked with Jonny to mentor him and toured the sold-out show in venues across Wales. The show is not about sympathy – it’s about empathy and understanding from a Deaf person’s perspective.

5. Jonny is thinking about the future and toying with the idea with giving hearing people hearing aids. During his residency with us, Jonny developed a device called a HHA or a hearing persons hearing aid, which uses face tracking technology that controls how much they can hear. This means if they are not maintaining eye contact with the person their talking to, they won’t be able to hear anything. Another invention is YOLO, You only look once, which explores the distractions of other sounds which are amplified for Deaf people by hearing aids. 


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