Leaders from the arts, business, charity and politics have welcomed the new Edinburgh Deaf Festival ahead of its programme launch this evening (Thursday 16 June). 

Unique in Scotland and the rest of the UK, the performing arts festival, which runs from 12 – 19 August, will be a celebration of deaf culture, language and heritage.

Organised by deaf-led charity Deaf Action, and working in partnership with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, it will feature drama, magic, comedy, cabaret, tours and exhibitions, and even a spectacular deaf rave.

The programme launch, at Bonnie & Wild, St James Quarter, brought together performers and supporters including Fringe Society CEO Shona McCarthy, plus representatives from EventScotland, the Scottish Government and St James Quarter.

Shona McCarthy said: “We’re incredibly excited to see the first-of-its-kind Edinburgh Deaf Festival launch at this year’s Fringe. One of the great strengths of the Fringe is that, with the vast variety of shows on offer, people can effectively become their own festival curators, creating a bespoke experience that serves their needs and interests.

“Having a dedicated festival-within-a-festival for deaf audiences is an incredible step forward for the Fringe’s overall accessibility, something that speaks to our 75th anniversary vision to give anyone a stage and everyone a seat.”

Jonathan Lloyd, Solar Bear Creative Director and CEO, said: “Solar Bear is excited to support the Edinburgh Deaf Festival. We’re working on a deaf-led cabaret, showcasing some of the amazing deaf talent here in Scotland. This festival is much needed and we can’t wait for August.”

Festival highlights will include:

  • Perspectives with Gavin: International standup Gavin Lilley shares his experiences as a deaf person navigating a hearing world.
  • SPILL YOUR DRINK: Deaf cabaret from Glasgow’s Solar Bear theatre company which works with deaf and hearing actors, theatre makers, artists and young people.
  • Deaf Rave: with leading deaf DJs including DJ Chinaman, MC Geezer, DJ Ceri Karma, Jia McKenzie and Billy Reid in an underground car park in the St James’ Quarter.
  • The Funny Punny Magic Show: with the acclaimed Tricky Ricky.
  • Once Upon A Raindrop: Cheerful, funny, magic show for toddlers with a walkthrough performance with sensory games and magic tricks.

Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People, said: “I warmly welcome the Edinburgh Deaf Festival to Scotland’s festivals family this year and thank Deaf Action for their work in organising.

“This inaugural festival will highlight the wonders of deaf culture and its arts which will be a showcase of how communities can come together to enjoy inclusive and accessible entertainment, stories and cultural enrichment.

“In our Culture Strategy for Scotland, the Scottish Government set out our goal of supporting everyone, regardless of background, language or disability, to lead a cultural life of their choice, with all aspects of cultural engagement available to them.

“This festival will be fully aligned with our government’s intention to ultimately make Scotland the best place in the world for people who sign to live, work, visit and learn – so that people whose primary language is BSL will be fully involved in all areas of daily and public life in Scotland.”

Edinburgh Deaf Festival will also feature tours, exhibitions, workshops and book clubs.

Performances will include a mix of deaf and hearing artists. All will be interpreted and captioned – and will be inclusive for hearing people as well as the deaf and hard of hearing.

Philip Gerrard, CEO of Deaf Action, said: “The first ever Edinburgh Deaf Festival marks a watershed moment. More than a million people in Scotland alone are deaf or have hearing loss – and there are 13,000 British Sign Language users.

“Yet this large section of society is poorly served by the arts and cultural sector. And, at the same time, despite the enormous talent among deaf performers and entertainers, they are rarely welcomed into the mainstream of the performing arts.

“As the world’s oldest charity for the deaf, and as an organisation dedicated to the empowerment of deaf people, we believe this festival can be a real driver for change.

“It will do this by being not just a festival for deaf people, but one that also welcomes hearing audiences to discover more about deaf culture, language and heritage.”

Deaf actor and BSL user, Nadia Nadarajah, who has performed worldwide appeared in multiple TV and theatre productions (including the award-winning Fringe show Can I Start Again Please), will be the Edinburgh Deaf Festival Ambassador.

Nadia said: “I am honoured to be ambassador for Edinburgh Deaf Festival – it is special to me as deaf actor and creative artist. It is very important to recognise deaf works in the arts world.

“This festival is for everyone and will bring communities together, showcasing the best in deaf talent and our rich deaf culture. We can’t wait to celebrate this together.” 

Deaf Action will also be working with the Fringe to make its own events more accessible. Edinburgh Deaf Festival is supported by Creative Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Nancie Massey Trust.

The festival will also feature an exhibition and screening as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022, which has been designed to spotlight, celebrate and promote the wealth of deaf-led stories inspired by, written, or created in Scotland.

  • Performances will be at Deaf Action, 49 Albany Street, Edinburgh, and other venues across the city.
  • The programme and tickets are available through the Edinburgh Fringe box office at edfringe.com.
  • See also the Edinburgh Deaf Festival website at edinburghdeaffestival.co.uk.