Paula Garfield speaks to BBC Radio 5 Live's presenter Naga Munchetty about Rose Ayling-Ellis' time on Strictly Come Dancing and what impact this is having for deaf representation in mainstream media.

Below is the transcript of the interview that aired on Monday 15th November 2021:

Naga: Maybe this Monday morning, you may have had a moment to reflect on Strictly Come Dancing. If you were watching on Saturday night, there was that remarkable dance, that performance, after Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice did their couples choice and part of that dance. There was a moment, a moment of silence. And the idea was to show us what it's like to live in a world of silence and it told the story of how Rose the EastEnders actress overcame obstacles to carve out her career. 

Well, last week, Rose and Giovanni visited Deafinitely, this is the first deaf launched and deaf led theatre company in the UK and that's where Rose trained and everyone there has been watching Rosie strictly journey with interest unsurprisingly. 

Now I'm delighted to talk now to Artistic Director Paula Garfield. And Paula is with sign language interpreter Tracy Tyer, and to explain how this is all going to work: I'm going to ask the questions. Tracy is going to sign them to Paula, she's with Paula, and we'll hear Paula's response via Tracy. 

So Tracy, Paula. Tracy, thank you very much for being here. Paula Garfield, lovely to have you on the programme today. Talk to me about how you reacted to Rose and Giovanni's dance.

Paula: Oh, gosh, it was so amazing and so many other deaf people were in tears. It was such a beautiful moment. Dancing with no shoes, and bare feet, that really resonated with the deaf community because often we feel vibrations through the floor. And it was such a beautiful moment. And to show that silence can be beautiful. Silence isn't a bad thing- silence as the phrase goes is golden. So for the deaf community for the last few weeks and seeing Rose, it's been beautiful and watching her develop and grow on the programme.

Naga: It's interesting, isn't it? Because Rose and contestants go on Strictly Come Dancing to learn to dance to enjoy the experience. But Rose has taken this, and Giovanni, they've both taken this to another level when it comes to awareness of silence and the deaf community. How important has that been for you and those in the school who are watching?

Paula: I think it's important that - well 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents and hearing families. So the first person that the parents often meet is the audiologist or a doctor who often says "I'm sorry that your baby has been found to be deaf". And they're very shocked and emotional. And to hear those first words that "I'm sorry your child is deaf", I think it's so important to have deaf people within a high profile mainstream environment to show that deafness is okay. 
It's alright to be deaf. You can have as much enjoyment of life. We have language, we have culture, we have a community. And I think Rose is really showing that in a positive role model and as being really positive within the deaf community and leading that conversation forward. And I have a lot of respect, and thanks to her for that. Because often as the deaf community, we've been fighting for deaf rights and access for many, many years. And in the last few weeks, Rose has achieved so much within that mainstream and she's actually really using that platform to raise awareness in a really positive and good way.

Naga: How has it changed, just with the students you work with, how has it changed with what they believe they can achieve? And how they can achieve in and I hesitate with this word- the mainstream?

Paula: Yes, the theatre world, obviously if I talk from theatre and TV and film and the industry has changed across the last few years, much, much more accessibility in the last 10 years say compared to 30 years ago.

It's been often very difficult for deaf people who use BSL to break through. But the last 10 years, we've seen a real shift in that. So there's - I don't know if you've seen recently, there's a new Marvel film the Eternals, which actually has a deaf character, and a deaf actor in the film. There's also a deaf actor in the film Dune. So we've actually started to see a real sense of deaf people who don't use perhaps spoken language who use BSL to be seen in mainstream characters. 

And I actually think for our young deaf people, they've seen actually a real shift of what's possible for them. Strictly Come Dancing, seeing Rose has really started almost a flood of that change for young deaf people to see themselves reflected and see that representation. 

I mean, when the young people met Rose, you will have seen the segment in the programme, where Rose and Giovanni visited us, I think their questions were, how did you get to where you've done? How did you achieve it and I think her message of just never give up, know that you're going to have to work hard. It's often going to be double the effort to perhaps your hearing peers, but never, never give up that you will, you will get there and continue to have belief in yourself that you can do it. I think that was such a really powerful message to hear from somebody who has achieved success.