Peter Dobre: Learning another sign language just the first step in my journey as a deaf dancer

Petre took part in Kadamati, a large-scale outdoor dance performance outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse as part of the Edinburgh International Festival
Petre took part in Kadamati, a large-scale outdoor dance performance outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse as part of the Edinburgh International Festival
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Sometimes you meet someone who is so positive in their approach to life that you are instantly at ease and being in their company is a delight. It is especially delightful when they have a talent that shines so brightly that it is dazzling. As well as being a ­brilliant performer, Petre Dobre is one of warmest and most engaging people that you could encounter.

He has risen to so many life challenges that it would be easy to take him at his word when he says “I took the challenge in my stride.” As we exchange stories over coffee in the office, it’s clear that it cannot have been plain sailing.

Petre Dobre, BSL Trainee Director, Macrobert Arts Centre

Petre Dobre, BSL Trainee Director, Macrobert Arts Centre

The experience of growing up a deaf person in a hearing, non-signing family; learning to dance to such a level he was in the finals of the TV programme Romania’s Got Talent and, after an international cultural exchange trip with Solar Bear, he took the enormous step of moving to Scotland to undertake actor training at RCS without knowing British sign language. He excelled in all of these.

When we recruited Petre to this director traineeship, we had little understanding of how hard it would be for a deaf person to work in an office environment for the first time, and how the medium of written ­language which we all take for granted is so specific to the spoken word.

We have learned a great deal about how someone who is deaf experiences the workplace and every day we grow our understanding a little more under Petre’s patient but honest guidance. Reading this article, I ­realise what a tremendous task we gave him in asking him to tell you his story in written English. All the facts are detailed but understandably only a little is captured of the person we have the pleasure of working with. This introduction is my attempt to give you some sense of Petre’s ­personality and the person we have the pleasure of working with. Julie Ellen (artistic director, Macrobert Arts Centre).

Peter writes: I was delighted to be selected as Scotland’s first British sign language director trainee at Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling, a one-year traineeship partially funded through Creative Scotland’s Year of Young People fund.

Deaf and originally from Romania, I came to Glasgow three years ago to join the BA Performance in British sign language and English programme, the first of its kind in Europe, at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

To meet the requirements of the course I had to learn the basics of British sign language (BSL) which is different from Romanian sign language, but I took the challenge in my stride and graduated in July of this year.

The journey at Macrobert Arts ­Centre has given me fantastic opportunities in so many different areas within the arts. Learning with and being mentored by Julie Ellen has given me an exciting insight into the creative process of theatre making from a different perspective.

Using my skills, I have taught movement and dance workshops with Macrobert Youth Dance Company, Alva Academy in Clackmannanshire and Queen Victoria School in ­Dunblane.

During the first Fun Palaces event at Macrobert Arts Centre (a UK-wide campaign for cultural democracy) I had great fun teaching Romanian folk dance to a group of people of ­various ages.

Community engagement like this is one of the things I enjoy most, particularly with the deaf community and within schools in the Forth Valley area, building relationships with people who have never been to Macrobert Arts Centre and making them aware of all the accessible performances, films and events that happen throughout the year.

Being deaf myself, accessibility is of the upmost importance and I am in the process of developing a deaf theatre club to increase the number of deaf people coming along to the signed performances in the live ­programme and advising on the ­promotion of subtitled films for Deaf Cinema Club. I’ve been working with the Macrobert Marketing Team to create BSL videos for promotion through Facebook – one of the best ways to pass on information to the deaf community.

Another important aspect of my role is my professional development – networking with my peers, learning and sharing from each other’s ­experiences. I was selected as one of the participants for the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Youth Arts Industry Programme. This was really valuable as I took part in various workshops and saw many performances.

As part of the Edinburgh International Festival, I was involved in ­Kadamati, choreographed by Akram Khan, a large-scale outdoor dance performance outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse. As the only deaf ­person performing, it was great to show what can be achieved in groups of mixed abilities.

Macrobert Arts Centre has made a number of changes to make their programme more accessible to the deaf community and I hope there will be more.

It has been a huge learning curve for myself and also for the team at Macrobert and it’s great that a lot of the staff have undertaken BSL classes and deaf awareness training.

I am developing my own work and to mark the end of my one-year traineeship I will be showcasing it in the Mainhouse at Macrobert Arts Centre on Fri 21 June (full details will be on the Macrobert website shortly). Through my learning here, the range of opportunities has helped me build on different skills that will be useful for my future as an emerging artist. With my flexible approach to working, I will continue to learn and develop as an artist and theatre-maker and continue to teach.

Petre Dobre (BSL trainee director, Macrobert Arts Centre).