A story of losing one’s world and finding it again

Meet Shelly, a normal girl who suddenly finds herself becoming more and more fish-like every day. She takes refuge in a world under the sea only to find that one day even the sea is not enough, and she must search for a way to walk on land again.

The Sound of Waves is a whimsical tale that traces the emotional landscape of performer Jodie Harris’ journey through losing her hearing, receiving a Cochlear implant and finding her way in the world again.

Written by Gareth Ellis and directed by Naomi Edwards,
The Sound of Waves brings together a highly respected creative team for a spellbinding event that has been seven years in the making.

“In 2007 I asked Gareth Ellis to write a script based on my experiences of losing my hearing, and getting a cochlear implant. In response, Gareth gave us The Sound of Waves; a play for a solo performer, with all characters to be portrayed vocally and physically."

My first response was “how on earth am I going to do this?” Me, a deaf actor who has struggled for years to find a voice that could be heard, not only by her audience, but in the everyday world? Then a tiny voice inside me, in the words of the weedy Seahorse in the play, said... “I can do this, and that, check it out, I can DO this.” – Jodie Harris

And she has, this is her story….

Jodie is a profoundly deaf actress with a cochlear implant. Before she was 6 years old, her parents witnessed Jodie racing around the house, panicked, unable to hear them respond to her calling. She was getting in trouble for not doing as she was told. Finally it was confirmed that Jodie had a moderate to severe hearing loss, not a cold. She would rely on her, already well developed, lip-reading skills through the next 23 years of her life as her hearing progressed to a profound loss.

Jodie seemed to be coping well for a while: she was close to her family and had firm friendships. She loved people and was interested in everything. She wanted to act for as long as her parents can remember. Her parents never treated her differently from her sisters and it never crossed her mind that acting might be a somewhat challenging career choice! It gave her a chance to delve into the lives of others and in a sense, escape from hearing loss in that moment of transformation to another being. Jodie was always positive about her hearing loss - there was nothing she could do about it so no point dwelling! She knew it shaped who she was and that it brought blessings so for a long time she wouldn’t have changed things. She could not sign and she went to a “hearing” school. She already knew she needed to work twice as hard to get half as far no matter what she did, so she may as well do what she loved.

Over time, those close to Jodie began to bear the brunt of a growing, uncontrollable, all consuming sense of rage. It was explosive and erupted at the tiniest provocation. It never erupted towards her hearing loss - she had to be positive about that. There was no way out. As time went by, Jodie began to retreat further and further from those she loved and from the world. The amount of concentration it required to stay connected with her family, friends and the community was just too hard to maintain for long periods of time. The world was very different then: no email, no internet, no texting on mobile phones. She hated how dependent she was on others. She had heard of the cochlear implant but was told she was not a suitable candidate.

One day Jodie stumbled across a specialist who decided to refer her to the cochlear implant clinic even though she had some residual hearing. Residual hearing meant she could hear sound with hearing aids that amplified things to the level of a jet engine however Jodie couldn’t make sense of that sound. At the time people with residual hearing did not receive implants because when the electrodes are pushed into the cochlea they usually destroy the remaining hearing. Months of testing and tears followed as the Cochlear Implant Clinic tried to determine whether Jodie would be better or worse off. At this time Jodie was in her first year at Victorian College of the Arts studying acting.

June 11th 1999, Jodie became a recipient of a new type of cochlear implant as a research patient. It was at this point she developed a firm friendship with the leader of the research team, Elaine Saunders. She also began to work on her voice intensely at VCA with Geraldine Cook. Her articulation was not bad, but her voice was high and thin, which is probably how she last heard it as a little girl. When she started at VCA, she could not make an audience hear her voice.

The cochlear implant gave Jodie a new life. She was able to be herself again and the rage evaporated. She found the world and how to be in it again - she found her voice. She discovered that hearing and being heard are vital to remaining connected to the wider community.

Geraldine guided Jodie in investigating her voice and continued to encourage her to push past new boundaries. They were both excited about what they discovered, and their partnership resulted in an Australian Research Council Arts/Science linkage grant to investigate whether their discoveries could benefit others with hearing loss. The original showing of The Sound of Waves was Jodie’s research outcome. Jodie sat down with writer, Gareth Ellis, and for the first time shared and reflected on what had actually happened to her.

That first performance, produced on the smell of an oily rag, revealed something special. Through the metaphor that the audience shared they were able to identify their own experiences of loss, grief, isolation, despair, and depression. And they had a good laugh along the way.

Elaine Saunders and Peter Blamey were in that original audience and believed in the project enough to offer cornerstone funding and a great deal of in-kind support to raise the required funds and support from a diverse group of individuals and organisations. They demonstrated much patience as an extraordinary team of artists kept developing, dreaming big and pushing up the budget!

We live in a society with escalating mental health issues. Many of us hide what we are really experiencing from the world.
The Sound of Waves gives a voice to these unseen experiences. In a society that requires us to ‘get on with it’, it articulates something that we are unable to describe in words. It gives us the space to connect to, and find a greater understanding, of each other and of ourselves.