Deaf to disability

• Rae Gibson mimes it up with a sculpture outside her Fremantle home. Photo by Jeremy Dixon

• Rae Gibson mimes it up with a sculpture outside her Fremantle home. Photo by Jeremy Dixon

IT’S not easy interviewing a deaf person. It wasn’t the communication barrier so much as the stream of smutty jokes that transcended speech and constantly derailed the interview with gales of laughter.

Fremantle’s Rae Gibson, now in her 70s, learned mime from Marcel Marceau during his visit to Perth in the 1960s.

She was the only deaf person in the workshops and the great man was so impressed with her quick mastery of mime he kissed her hand in appreciation.

“Gesture is easy for the deaf, hearing people were bad at it and couldn’t do it,” the diminutive actor recalls.

Gibson went on to earn a living—and travel the world—in her chosen profession, including roles on stage and TV and an invitation to take part in a Broadway summer school, where she added juggling and fire-eating to her repertoire.

Leaving school at 15 her first job was at Spicers Printing (where the Henderson Street car park is now) stapling books together.

“It was boring—I hated it, I wanted to work in theatre,” Gibson says through Auslan interpreter and friend Dani Begg.

Breaking out of her hum-drum job Gibson booked a cruise, via the Suez, to the bright lights of London—telling her horrified parents only after the ticket was purchased.

Deafness was no barrier to the 22-year-old and sign language was a universal passport—albeit with some differences.

“I arrived in a country and would seek out deaf people.”

Seventy years ago, when communication was pretty much limited to airmailed letters, her parents enlisted the help of the John Tracy Clinic in the US. They determinedly taught their daughter piano and banjo by tapping out the tune on her shoulder so she could “feel” the music through her body.

When she took up dance as a teenager, at an all-hearing dance school, her mum tapped out the rhythm from the front row. She passed with flying colours.

“[The] deaf are not dumb…children have to be encouraged, they can do anything,” Gibson says.

A member of WA Deaf Arts, Gibson is directing a production of Cabaret (choreographed by WAPA graduate Carrie Brock), set to hit the stage in July.

Songs will be signed and interpreted for a hearing and deaf audience, with a cast of deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors.

For more information about the show text Dani on 0411 426 278 and she’ll get back to you.

Disclaimer: Rae Gibson and reporter Jenny D’Anger are both Wasamba drummers.


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