Life and signs of an Asian deaf artist Breaking the Silence:
Comedian Rinkoo Barpaga discusses his new one-man show
Being a deaf British Asian isn’t highlighted in popular culture, and it is rarely discussed in
Rinkoo Barpaga is hoping to change that with his unique new one-man comedy show Made in India Britain, which recently premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is being staged there until the end of this month.
The new show, developed from his creative storytelling performance Am I Funny, is based on personal experiences and allows audiences to learn more about his journey as a British deaf Asian, from living all over the UK to trying to develop a comedy career in America. He explores cultural differences, discrimination, fleeting moments of acceptance, and fear of the future in a show brilliantly performed in sign language with a live voiceover.
Eastern Eye caught up with the Birmingham-raised actor, comedian, and writer to discuss his important, entertaining, and informative new theatre production. He also spoke about challenges south Asian deaf people face and making a positive change.
Tell us about your show Made in India Britain?
Through the show, I touch upon moving around and my life journey to arrive at this point. I explore some of the barriers, oppression, discrimination, identity, and cultural differences. I’ve moved around so much, for so long, and my storytelling takes a deeper focus, as I try to discover where I fit in. I am deaf British Asian, so intersectionality is a poignant consideration as I juggle between ‘worlds’, and communities, alongside my own identity.
How do you feel about it being part of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
I never expected to get through the selection process. Being a part of this year’s Fringe is incredibly exciting and a little daunting. Even though I was born in Britain, I still feel like a foreigner on occasions and sometimes don’t quite believe this is happening. Being selected for the Edinburgh Fringe, for me, was like winning the World Cup.
Who are you hoping connects with Made in India Britain?
It’s a show the likes of which has never been seen before in theatres or on television. The performance space is open to everyone, and I am eager to welcome diverse mixed
audiences, both deaf and hearing people. Hopefully, everyone who comes will find the show a unique, exciting, thought-provoking, and a completely original experience. This incredible performance piece is accessible to everyone. Being able to perform at Edinburgh
Fringe affords a great opportunity to connect with wider mixed audiences and continue to push boundaries of what is possible for deaf people.
What is your key message?
There’s a key focus on sharing the experience of what it is like for me being a deaf British Asian man in UK, resolving life’s tribulations, overcoming structuralist attitudes, ableist barriers, discrimination, and oppression, trying to find somewhere to settle and allow myself to discover where I truly belong. I think I’ve found the answer.
Do you think south Asian deaf people are ignored in UK?
Yes, sadly, I do. It is a great shame that life can be incredibly difficult for south Asian deaf people. Often, we are ignored and can struggle within a dominant hearing society, which has such low expectations of us. Without adequate support, finding where we belong within our community can be incredibly difficult; this is one of the reasons why deaf people can suffer from mental health conditions. Finding a positive place within society can feel like a huge mountain to climb.
You have done really well…
I think I’m perhaps one of the very few who have broken through negative assumptions, limited expectations, and labels ascribed to us. Perhaps that is why I still find myself feeling like a foreigner on occasions. I do feel we need to ensure greater steps are taken to break down some of the outdated inequalities and structuralist attitudes to move the situation forward towards societal equity.
Are you hoping this show makes a positive impact?
This show should be a positive and unique experience for everyone. The audience will potentially learn a new perspective on what it is like to be a deaf British Asian in the UK. While challenging some sensitive themes, this is a comedy show; so I do expect the audience will also enjoy a few laughs.
What are your future hopes for this show?
My full focus is on the Fringe, so I’m not sure what will happen next. I’m taking each step as it comes. Societal attitudes and perceptions of deaf people cannot change overnight. There is still a glass ceiling preventing deaf equity and equality across society. As a deaf British Asian, I am also faced with challenging both white privileges and hearing privilege, dominant across all spheres of life, not just in comedy and performing arts.
Are things changing?
In recent years, white deaf people have made huge career leaps in creative endeavours. I aim to contribute towards these final steps for deaf performers and be part of the efforts to finally break through into wider mainstream circuits. This would be a monumental achievement for deaf performers.
What inspires you?
My own experiences drive me on. I have had many years honing my craft, many miles travelled, performing across both American and UK circuits, before finally everything seems to have taken off career-wise. My journey hasn’t been easy (as you’ll learn in my show). As I reflect upon those experiences; every single obstacle and barrier I’ve broken through – it’s those achievements that inspire me to keep going.
Who is your own hero?
My mother is my hero because she is the queen of storytelling.
Why should we watch Made in India Britain?
This is my story, a story of the untold soul. A story is so unique that it simply cannot be ignored.
Made in India Britain runs until Monday, August 29, 2022 (not 9, 16, 23), 13:40 at the Pleasance Courtyard (Two), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ. Visit www.pleasance.co.uk & www.edfringe.com