On Whose Shoulders We Build: Spotlight on – Colly Metcalfe

Disability Arts in the North East – A Living Archive

A tribute to all the disabled artists and groups who have made up the Disability Arts Movement past and present


About Colly

Colly Metcalfe is a deaf performer from Teesside.

She has a long history of performance in mainstream and disability theatre, as well as performing at festivals, outdoor site specific productions, radio, voice overs and music videos.

After finding mainstream theatre more difficult to negotiate as a deaf actor, she took a break from performing. She missed the pull of the space, so Colly decided to look at other ways to return to the theatre.  She started to explore her own narrative using poetry.  Colly had never written anything before, so never thought this would be something she would deliver live.  She found herself at an open mic session one evening, and chanced her luck.  Her piece was so well received, that she wrote some more and has performed with Tees Women Poets (TWP) several times at Hartlepool Waterfront Festival and other events.

Colly speaks her words in English, but also brings another element to her poetry performance; she brings British Sign Language (BSL), and sometimes adds music for depth and ambience.  Occasionally, she ‘turns off’ her voice, and performs the whole thing in BSL, leaving the audience to interpret her work as they will.  There is no right way or wrong way in these moments; the audience is free to take from the work what they will.

Colly’s poetry has been published twice in books and 3 times in online spaces.


Colly’s statement on the exhibition

“Be bold. Be daring, be proud and direct, don’t apologise for your disability. Don’t accept anybody else’s narrative about you; write your own and own it. You will have to fight constantly for access as an artist. The argument is real, and it gets old and boring – but don’t give up. You are worth every second – and you need to rise up and make yourself known; you have to be better and bigger and more vocal than the rest… and you have already fought a million battles… so don’t quit yet!

Go on; DO IT! Make your mark and make it big. Find people to be your allies and keep them on side. When you need to take a pause from the fight, lean on them and don’t be afraid to rest a moment. Then, when you’re ready, go back out there and be fabulous!”


Colly’s projects

Colly has a wealth of work, more recently including her visual film ‘4 Senses’. As a Deaf artist finding new ways to share her voice, Colly has been researching, and will share, a piece of visual poetry using a visual vernacular performance style drawn from British Sign Language, thinking creatively about a range of elements and exploring the theme of a Deaf voice at the table. The exhibition of 4 Senses comprises a visual film without any sound or subtitles, true to a Deaf aesthetic, to explore how the visual language reaches both Deaf and hearing audiences.

View the On Whose Shoulders We Build online exhibition