Tuesday, October 30, 2007

International Sign Language Theatre Festival

The following are excerpts from a paper I wrote for my ASL1 class about attending the first ISLTF (International Sign Language Theatre Festival) presented by Hands Across Communications, INC. I've added links to as many people and organizations as I could-- these links go much more into depth about the performers and dedicated people behind the scenes trying to bring forth a better understanding of Deaf Culture and different views of their lives... and where you can see them performing now!
While waiting in line to buy my ticket, I watched many different conversations taking place around me… and I started to get a little nervous. What if someone started signing to me and I just stood there looking stupid? As I watched everyone chatting, I noticed that I knew one word out of every fifteen—how in the world would I keep up with a whole performance?!! My nervousness went away quickly as I made my way up to the ticket counter. The sweet woman behind the desk could tell I was a beginning signer and patiently signed slowly. I was able to fingerspell, point and use facial gestures to help me get my point across.

We made our way in to the auditorium and found seats. The lights dimmed and after introductions by hilarious comedian and ISLTF Board Chairman
CJ Jones, actress and Master of Ceremonies Deanne Bray, and Executive Director of HAC, Evelina Gaina, the amazing actress Michelle Banks began her piece, “Reflections of a Deaf Black Woman” and boy was I surprised. In my ASL 101 class, I just finished reading an excerpt from the book “For Hearing People Only” – part of which discussed different use of facial and body gestures. I knew (imagined) that people would be different in general, and that different areas (North East vs. West vs. South) would use different signs and slang words, but Ms. Banks took me on a wonderful roller coaster ride with her emotions and facial expressions. You could tell when she was super jump-up-and-down excited, or when she was depressed beyond belief. Not just by the signs she was saying but also by what her body was conveying. Yes, I could hear spoken English, but I could also watch her and get what she meant without having to listen. I don’t know why I was shocked, but I was shocked when she used the “n” word… logically, there are signs for good things and bad things, but that one surprised me! It was a serious and beautiful work about a mother/daughter relationship that could have been about anyone and I was touched that she held nothing back.

After Ms. Banks deep performance, a bit of
laughter was perfect… only we got a little more than a bit of laughter! Robert DeMayo’s (link 1, link 2 watch trailer 3 but all are amazing) “Hear Me None” made my face hurt from laughing so hard and so long! From childhood experiences at the American School for the Deaf to some common and not-so-common trials and tribulations with new-fangled technology and VRS, I barely stopped laughing and feeling like I was partially experiencing a little Deaf culture firsthand. The silent performances “The Wall” and “Circle of Life” were beautiful and sad and vivid reminders that emotions are written all over ones’ face and that sound isn’t always needed for hearing people to convey touching moments. I also enjoyed watching the alphabet story and the finger spelling mime stories which I now know are a big learning and enjoyment tool for kids and adults alike. Robert's website.

The group from Quest 4 Arts performed the last piece, “Mosaic” and it really was a thinking type of showpiece. I thought it was very clever that each selection of music, while different, all had interesting pounding base beats that helped the actors feel the rhythm and synchronize their movements without having to look at each other. To me, this piece as a whole showed the struggle that people in the Deaf community and deaf children of hearing parents must go through… not just as compared to hearing people, but within their own community as well. ASL vs. Lip Reading, Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants, ASL vs. English education, etc. I liked that each performer had something different about themselves that they both loved and wanted to show, but also were sometimes afraid or embarrassed to display. Conformity vs. Individualism. Doing things for the sake of the whole even when you feel it demeans or disagrees with your way of life. I found myself rooting for those blasted jackets to come off and was happy when they did… even though we don’t always get happy endings in real life.

Attending ISLFT was a wonderful, eye-opening experience for me. This was the first time I got to visit, participate and experience the Deaf world. By the end of the evening, I was not nervous about my lack of communication skills but felt fueled to learn more and be able to get my own points across when eyes are on me.


Below are links and videos to some similar things such as the ABC story and also to a few other websites:

Deaf Entertainer's Documentary, "See What I'm Saying"

Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, Inc. (Hi Adina!)

AWESOME PBS Documentary "Through Deaf Eyes"

That's it for now. I had a wonderful time at this Festival! Let me know what you think of it all... maybe now you'll be able to name more than one famous Deaf entertainer!