CMU School of Drama

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Day by Day: Finding the Voices of Deaf Leadership on Stage

HowlRound: “So how do Deaf people sing?” I am often asked that question and my answer has been given more depth by the recent commercial successes featuring Deaf culture and American Sign Language (ASL) which have exposed more and more people to the value of Deaf culture and community.

6 comments:

Rebecca Meckler said...

I found the part of this article about how ASL is a story telling language extremely interesting. When people tell a story in ASL and the want to become a character they “perform” the character to get the idea across. To me, that is fascinating because when we talk in english, we use inflection and tone, we mainly use the words to get our point across. Limiting our communicating to words only, gives a one dimensional understanding of the story. By acting out the story, the listener (I’m sure that's not the appropriate word but I don’t know the correct one) can gain a greater understanding of the story, both its events and its context. In shows, we use the elements of light, sound, set, costumes, and media to give a wider, fuller picture of the story and create a new interpretation of the story. This is extremely similar to how the deaf, according to this article, tell their stories. When telling our stories, both in and out the theater, we should focus on embodying the people and acting out the event to give a better understanding and our interpretation of what happened.

Lauren Miller said...

As I said (almost weekly) last year, I am ecstatic over the inclusion of Deaf performers in popular theater. I cannot fully express in words how glad I am that this movement is gaining more visibility and managing to educate hearing people about Deaf culture. I find myself forgetting that, due to the immense language differences, the majority of hearing people are not familiar with the fact that people who sign "act out" (the most noticeable characteristic of this to someone who doesn't sign is the variety and intensity of facial expressions, in fact, it is a common opinion among Deaf people that hearing people are cold and boring in how we communicate). Having been involved in the culture for a number of years now I found most of this article to simply be a restatement of the obvious aspects of the culture. Of course ASL is a story telling language - you literally have to set up a "stage" with locations and characters just to describe what you did that day. The one thing that I don't think this article properly communicates is just how hard SimCom is. It's not speaking Spanish and Italian at the same time. ASL, since it developed mostly independent (there is some french influence) from any spoken language, has an incredibly unique grammatical structure. The closest spoken grammatical structure to ASL is Navajo. For example, the sentence "I went to the bank yesterday" in ASL grammatical structure would be "Yesterday bank go I". Try thinking those sentences at the same time.

Lia Jennings said...

I have always had a special place in my heart for sign language and how impactful it is. When I was in high school I took a sign language class and learned a few songs to sign to. Moving my hands with those words really spoke to me and made each and every lyric unique. I was privileged enough to see Deaf West’s Spring Awakening in January and I was moved. The way they used their listening partner and when to just have silence on stage during scenes with just sign language was perfect. The use of sign language in the show was not a distraction for me but rather another hardship that some of these characters had to deal with along with the normal story ones. I know there were some people who didn’t care for the new version but I disagree. It wasn’t just a show with some deaf people in it and some sign language here and there to communicate to those actors but rather a specific choice to make these characters deaf and the other ones not. Or to have the listening partners be one in the same but yet their own person as well. They acknowledged each other and made choices together rather than following each other. It made me want to watch other productions that are for a deaf community. There’s such a sense of trust that is different than normal theatre that I like.

Emily Lawrence said...

In high school I worked with deaf students, so when I found out about Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening I instantly fell in love. I love that it brings people together who would typically not try to communicate because of how difficult it can be. American Sign Language is truly a different art form that is beautiful to watch. Just like hearing actors, it is beautiful to watch them get into their work and it is truly awe inspiring. I love that the barrier has been torn down through the shows that have been written and the fact that authors are so willing to see how their work is translated. I would love to work at Deaf West one day since I know a little sign language, especially after working with deaf people on a one on one basis. I think it is truly a beautiful thing that this art has been expanded for more people. No one should be stopped from doing what they love because of a disability.

Julian Goldman said...

I always find culture and the differences between cultures interesting, so I was very interested by the way that leadership is seen differently in Deaf culture. Quite frankly, I think that model of leadership, where each person recognizes where their own expertise starts and ends, and respects when others have more knowledge than them, sounds more effective than the typical hierarchical leadership structure that is most prevalent in the United States hearing community. I’m curious how universal this style of leadership is within the American Deaf community as a whole. Is this the standard just in certain parts of the Deaf community, or is it almost always the default? On a separate note, I really understand what this article is saying in terms of ASL. ASL has so much more facial and overall body language communication than any spoken language I have ever seen, which makes ASL naturally good for storytelling.

Zara Bucci said...

I am in love with ASL as a language- I began learning it in January after I lost a significant amount of hearing in my right ear and a partial amount in my left. I found the beautiful language and began learning immediately. I am almost fluent in it, though I am better at signing than reading other people’s sign. After months of people suggesting, I finally watched the show Switched at Birth and oh my god I fell in love. I loved how the hearing community and the deaf community could come together in an educational and extremely interesting way that keeps a great story. I was hooked from the start and I am so happy that this has grown into theatre as well. There are now tour groups that specialize in translating complete shows into sign language and I just think that there is no better way to teach the community about this culture that used to be thought of as a disability and is now thought of as a unique trait. I love it so much.