Solar Bear is an award winning multi discipline theatre company based in Glasgow.

Established in 2002 their aim is to produce inclusive theatre that is exciting, pioneering and accessible to performers and audiences alike.

As well as producing and delivering unique stage productions Solar Bear also offer several tailored training and creative learning programmes aimed at young people, adults, schools, local authorities and arts organisations across Scotland. So far they have delivered over 500 workshops nationwide and in January 2008 launched Scotland’s first Deaf Youth Theatre integrating audio description and British Sign Language into on-stage performances and workshops.

To build on the success of their existing training programme, and to increase engagement in their newly formed Deaf Youth Theatre, Solar Bear approached the Royal Conservatoire Scotland to create a partnership project that would promote access and engagement opportunities for individuals who are deaf and wish to pursue a career in the performing arts.

Through RCS, Solar Bear applied for Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher funding which was administered by Interface. The funding allowed Solar Bear to create a 10 week pilot to test the concept of a deaf theatre short course. The success of this pilot led to the creation of a full short course and summer school programme. Now in its second year the short courses run 40 weeks of the year and now have 9 regular student participants.

Due to the success of this pilot, and the subsequent short courses and summer school programmes, RCS and Solar Bear continued their partnership increasing their scope to investigate the possibility of creating a full time BA Degree Course.

According to Gerry Ramage, Artistic Director, Solar Bear Theatre Company, “Solar Bear is delighted and proud to be working with our partners at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to establish formal pathways into the profession for young deaf actors. Our pilot training programme, has already resulted in new and ground-breaking opportunities for a new generation of deaf actors and audiences alike. Our shared vision will reflect and celebrate Scotland’s cultural diversity by ensuring that talented young deaf people have access to quality training opportunities at the highest level.”

As part of the extended partnership Solar Bear received further funding from RCS to create an apprentice programme designed to help RCS shape the course by providing a greater understanding of the needs of deaf students; the needs of deaf audiences and ultimately to understand the employability opportunities for newly graduated deaf actors.

The three apprentices conducting the research found that interest in visual theatre is becoming increasingly prevalent and audience numbers are continuing to rise. There is also more and more demand from other main stream theatre companies who are looking to bridge international language gaps by incorporating visual theatre into their programmes.

The apprenticeship programme is due to finish in August 2014 but it is ready evident that there is a desire for and from visual performers and therefore the new course has been agreed and is due to launch in September 2015.

Gerry says, “British sign language is beautiful, visual and accessible and with increased interest from more traditional theatres for deaf actors we are confident that demand for visual theatre will continue to increase. Thanks to the initial Innovation Voucher funding we know that the new BA Degree course will give deaf actors the skills and confidence to succeed in what is a very competitive market.”

Please note that Interface administers the Innovation Voucher Scheme on behalf of the Scottish Funding Council. All funding applications are reviewed on a case by case basis by the Scottish Funding Council, guidelines can be found here.