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aturday was horrifically hot and awful.  It was over 100 degrees, and you could see the waves of heat coming off the macadam roadways.  Instead of staying inside like any decent person would, I worked Deaf West’s booth at DEAFestival LA.  Aside from the unbearable heat, I had an amazing time!

My shift at the booth was supposed to start at 2:00, but I hit the inevitable LA traffic.  That, coupled with a 3 car accident on the side of the road, served to make me a bit late.  As I pulled off the freeway, I saw with relief the little sign procaiming DEAFestival parking, and a blue arrow pointing the way in.  Murphy’s law tends to work out so that whenever I’m running late, I usually get lost too.  I was excited that didn’t have to worry about that today.  I drove down a dusty road while a volunteer pointed me to park in a vast expanse of dustiness.  There was a bus, shuttling people from parking lot to festival, so I retrieved my purse from the back seat of the car, straightened my new blue “Deaf West” shirt, and trudged through the dust to the bus stop.  I was excited when I knew one of the volunteers helping people park!  She also volunteers at Deaf West sometimes.  We chatted a little before I took my place in the shade to await the bus.

It probably took less that 15 minutes for the bus to arrive, but the opressive heat made it seem like much longer.  My little Disney Heat Index trained self was telling me to drink water NOW or suffer the consequesces.  Too bad I hadn’t brought any with me.  As I waited, I caught snippets of conversation from the others waiting for the bus.  I think that’s the first time I’ve understood parts of ASL conversation without trying too.  Evidence I’m getting better?

The bus dropped us all off underneath a line of tall pine trees, next to another field of dustines.  Blue Easy-ups stretched out in the vast expanse of brown dirt while people bustled here and there.  I joined them, determined to rush around and find the Deaf West booth as quickly as possible.  As soon as I joined the crowd, a woman stopped me.

“Hi!  You work for Deaf West?” she asked, signing with a very student accent.

“No, I’m a volunteer.” I signed back.

“Are you hearing?”  She asked me.

“Yes.”

“Oh thank goodness.”  She said to me in English.  She wanted to know about volunteering at Deaf West.  I told her that I considered it an amazing experience, that they needed people for just about everything, and that she could go on the website and fill out their form if she was interested.  We exchanged names, and I went on my way.

I found the booth pretty quickly, in the middle of the middle aisle.  Ty, the Deaf West representative was chatting with someone in front of me.  “Hi!” I signed to him, ” I’m volunteering today. I’m soooo sorry I’m late!”

“Don’t worry about it.”  He signed back to me, and I took my place behind the counter.  The next two hours were great.  I chatted with people in my bad ASL, handed out forms, asked them if they wanted to win tickets, explained the shows that were coming up, and all together had an amazing time.  They even had bottles of water for us to drink so we didn’t get dehydrated!  The other girl who was volunteering with me was an ASL 2 student, and she did so well!!  I don’t know that I would have done as well as she did when I was in ASL 2.  We made friends fast,  and exchanged numbers at the end of our booth stint.  Several Deaf people asked me my name, several more decided to tease me (which I always enjoy), and I saw a lot of funny t-shirts.  “I laughed my ASL off” was one of the t-shirts I really liked, but my favorite by far was “Don’t Scream, I’m not that Deaf.”  I also saw a LOT of people I knew milling about in the crowd.  It was exciting to know that I was recognizing people and becoming a part of the community, slowly but surely.

When my booth stint was up, I wandered around for a few minutes.  I decided several months ago that my dream interpreting job would be to work for GLAD (Greater Los Angeles Agency for the Deaf), so I was excited to see their signs.  I took a bunch of fliers, figuring I would peruse them later.   I also walked around to see if there was any ASL merchandise I wanted to buy.  Sadly there were only two booths selling things, and they were things I really wasn’t interested in.  The other thing I really missed was the TTY museum.  Maybe they decided not to attend because all their antique machines would be outside in the dust.  Aside from all the booths with Deaf themes, booths from the city of Los Angeles were there too. The Democratic party had a booth, the water district had a booth, and so did one of the candidates for city council.  It was nice to see people who aren’t part of the Deaf community trying to participate.  I commend them for trying, but it didn’t seem like many people were interested in what they were doing.  To be honest, I wasn’t very interested in what they were doing either.

I had an appointment that evening, so after I strolled leisurely through the rows of booths, I took the bus back to my dust-covered car and went on my merry way.  It was a great day!  I think my ASL stood up really well to the challenge of explaining things, I got to meet neat people, and I got to spend time with the Deaf community.  What could be better than that?  Not a whole lot.

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eaf West has been a really amazing experience.  I’ve been there all week for tech week, learning all the quick changes and taking care of all the costumes for dress rehearsal.  I know I should have realized this before hand, but Deaf West works with some AMAZING people.  I’ve met the gal in charge of making wigs for the Mark Taper Forum; the costumer does shows at all sorts of impressive places in LA, including the Mark Taper Forum; the director has done some amazing things too, most impressive to me was working with John Kander of Kander and Ebb fame (Chicago, Cabaret…).  I’ve met Linda Bove (!!!!!!!), and am also quick changing Deanne Bray (also known as Sue Thomas, FBEye!!!!!).   The best part is that everyone is sooooo nice.   If I think about things too much, I get a little intimidated by the caliber of people I’m surrounded by.  It’s impossible to feel that way for long, though, with everyone being so friendly and inclusive.

My grandmother asked me the other day how Deaf people know when to go on stage for their cues if they can’t hear or see where we are in the show.  I don’t know how many people have been backstage at a regular theater, but usually there is a speaker in the dressing room broadcasting what’s happening sound-wise on stage and that’s all the help the actor gets.  At Deaf West everyone, hearing and Deaf alike, gets little blue cue lights.  When the cue light goes on, it’s your warning to be ready; when it goes out again, it’s your cue to walk on.  There are cue lights everywhere, even one out in the audience in case someone needs to be signaled while they’re on stage.   There’s also a camera in the audience that picks up the whole stage.  In the dressing room there’s a TV monitor that broadcasts the camera footage so everyone can see the show as well as hear it.  Personally, I love this.  It makes me feel like I can watch some of the show even though I’m relegated to back stage.

The other interesting thing for me is adapting to quick changes.  I have over 20 quick changes in the show and only 3 of them are with hearing actors.  I’m used to just being able to say “OK” when I’m done and have the actor run on stage.  It doesn’t work that way for the two Deaf girls I’m helping.  Usually I’m directly behind them zipping them up or fixing their hair.  I’ve taken to either holding out a hand in front of them at about eye level and signing “OK” or holding out both hands on either side of them and signing “Finished”.  It seems to be working well, I just hope I’m not being rude.  If I am no one has enlightened me yet, so I’m going to assume I’m fine.

The production is really great, and I would recommend that everyone come to see it if you can.  Don’t bring your kids, though.  There are some lesbianism themes and some violence.  My Sister In This House is a really compelling story.  It really happened, in 1933 in Le Mans, France.  Really cool stuff.

‘ve been volunteering off and on for Deaf West Theater for about a year now, more off than on.   It’s been a strange experience.  Usually I go in to help with behind the scenes work or to help in the office, and I don’t meet any Deaf people.  I meet a lot of hearing people who know sign, but the folks who are assigned to deal with the volunteers are all hearing.  It’s probably better that way.  You never know what kinds of volunteers you’re getting or how competent their ASL is.

Prior to my volunteer stint, I also applied for an internship at Deaf West.  I’ve been in theater my whole life and I know what’s going on.   I’ve also worked lots of office jobs to support my theater habit, so I know my way around an office too.  I felt like the interview went really well, and I was excited to work with them.    Unfortunately, I was a few school units shy of qualifying for the internship.  That’s when I decided to volunteer instead.  It has been fun.  I didn’t realize how much I  miss real theater and real theater people.  Disney seems to either chew these people up and spit them out or slowly change them into happy Disney techs.   The debauchery and uncouthness that’s so prevalent back stage doesn’t really exist there, and that’s part of what I love so much.  When Deaf West asked for volunteers to help usher for their new production, “My Sister In This House,”  I signed up immediately, and also included my phone number in case they had any problems.

I was called later the same day.  They needed a wardrobe person for backstage ASAP, and remembered that I had a lot of experience with costuming.  Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.  They asked me to do basically the same job I’m doing at Disney… put people in costumes, make sure the costumes are being sent to the correct cleaning places (washing machine or dry cleaner?), and doing minor repairs if buttons break etc.  Instead of dealing with costumes for 100+ people like I do at Disney, they have a cast of no more than 20.  I figured that volunteering and giving up all those Saturday nights was worth it for all the experience I would be getting.  Working with Deaf actors would also allow me to improve my rusty ASL.  Then they let me know they would be paying me a stipend.

WOW!  Was all I could think.  My 2 favorite things in the world are ASL and Theater, and I would be getting paid to work at an ASL theater.  You can’t get better than that.  I start going to rehearsals this week and I can’t wait to meet everyone.  This is such an exciting opportunity!!

ee What I’m Saying” is a documentary that was made about a year in the life of four different Deaf performers: C. J. Jones the comedian, Bob Hiltermann of the band Beethoven’s Nightmare, T. L. Forsberg the singer, and Robert DeMayo the actor.  It covers all their disappointments and successes throughout the year in trying to become better known for the things they love to do.  C. J. Jones, a huge celebrity in the Deaf world,  tries again and again to break through into the mainstream hearing culture but is constantly rebuffed.  Bob Hiltermann has been teaching for two years, and feels the need to get the band together for one more show so he can be a rockstar at least once more before he dies.  T. L Forsberg tries to find her place in the Deaf world even though many people look down on her because she can pass as hearing, has a singing career, and imperfect signing skills:  they feel she isn’t Deaf enough.  Even though Robert DeMayo is considered a premier actor and even teaches at Juliard, he finds it hard to get work;  everything culminates for him when he is evicted from his apartment and is forced to live on the streets.  The documentary premiered in Los Angeles on March 19th and is being shown exclusively at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Hollywood until April 1st.  After that, it goes to New York and then into wider circulation.

I had been DYING to go see the movie.  Everyone in my classes was talking about it and saying how amazing it was.  I finally told my husband, Brian, that we were going whether he liked it or not, so we did.  I can’t believe how much everyone was low-balling how great the documentary was.   You wanted to cry with the performers through their difficulties and cheer with them through their successes.  Even Brian, who knows no sign and nothing about Deaf Culture, found the movie incredibly inspiring.  We both agreed that when Beethoven’s Nightmare puts on it’s next show, we will be there with bells on and nothing can keep us away;  the concert they showed was just about the coolest thing I think I’ve ever seen.

Little by little, Brian is learning more about Deaf Culture.  I took him to the ASL Comedy Tour about a month ago and he loved it a lot.  At one point during the movie, Keith Wann interprets for Robert DeMayo.  It was really fun for Brian and I to turn to each other and say excitedly, “That’s Keith Wann!!”.  While in theory I know how small the Deaf world is, it was highlighted a lot in this movie.  The performers all know each other and work together constantly.  The same people turn up over and over.

While the movie was AMAZING, the best part was the ending.  Brian turned to me before the lights came up and said, “Don’t look now, but the girl from the documentary is standing in the aisle right behind us!”  T. L., Bob, and the director Hilari Scarl all showed up to answer questions at the end.  It was really great to meet everyone!!  We bought a Beethoven’s Nightmare CD, T. L.’s newest CD, and a See What I’m Saying poster which everyone was more than happy to sign for me.  It was crazy, because you get all star-struck seeing what amazing artists these people are on the screen and then their right in front of you.  I’m sorry to say that my ASL suffered a little bit of a breakdown due to nerves, but not too badly.  It was a really great day, and I’m so happy that the open captioning on the film and the amazing volunteer interpreter made me able to share it all with Brian.

I would strongly recommend that anyone who is able to should go see this film.  It was a wonderful experience.  The director was telling us all that the future success of the film relies on how many people go to see it in LA right now: I guess movie theaters in other big cities like to gauge how much interest there is before deciding to screen a film.   So if you go to see it, not only will you be treating yourself to a really good time, you’ll be helping people in other cities have a really good time too.  This was, without a doubt, the best time I’ve ever had seeing a movie!

For more information on how to see the film, visit http://www.seewhatimsayingmovie.com/

linda_bove 9780394875163 lindahenry

inda Bove was born on 1945, to two Deaf parents.  She grew up learning to speak ASL, and attended the New Jersey school for the Deaf.  After graduating, she attended Gallaudet University where she studied Library Science and performed in plays for fun.  One summer, she attended a program set up by the National Theater for the Deaf, and decided to join their company after graduating from Gallaudet instead of becoming a librarian as she had previously planned to.  She met a man named Ed Waterstreet who was also a member of the National Theater for the Deaf company and they were married in 1970. 

When the National Theater for the Deaf was asked to do some work for Sesame Street, Linda was excited to join them, and when Sesame Street decided they wanted to create a position for her, she was thrilled.  Linda became Linda the Librarian to millions of children around the United States.  She was able to show hearing people a positive portrayal of a proud Deaf woman who was capable of anything.  She also taught American Sign Language to children through the show, and published several books designed for teaching ASL to kids.  Her role as Linda the Librarian lasted from 1971 – 2003, and brought Linda the distinction of holding the longest roll of any Deaf person in the entertainment industry. 

In between her work on Sesame Street, Linda also appeared on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, and on Happy Days.  She also understudied the roll of Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God.  In 1991, Linda and her husband founded Deaf West Theater in Los Angeles.  Deaf West puts on plays and musicals, performed simultaneously in ASL and spoken English.  They won several awards for their adaption of Big River, and premiered the first revival of Pippin since the 1970’s at the Mark Taper Forum in 2008. 

Today Linda continues to perform on the stage, sometimes with her husband Ed.  She is also a big supporter of an organization called the Non Traditional Casting Project, which encourages the casting of minorities and people with perceived disabilities.  Through her work in spreading the knowledge of sign into mainstream communities, and also by providing a positive roll for deaf children everywhere, Linda has been a great ambassador for Deaf Culture.

Deaf Arm

ASLDeaf Clubs were places where Deaf people could gather together to chat and socialize on a day to day basis.  Much more than a place for card games and conversation, Deaf Clubs  were deeply ingrained into the Deaf Culture of their time providing a place where Deaf people could attend performances by Deaf comedians, plays, lectures, film screenings, and holiday parties, as well as get caught up on the news of the day, conduct business and arrange for services before telephones were practical.  Deaf Clubs even frequently sponsored athletic events and group outings.  Many of the cultural practices still visible in the Deaf community today have their roots in Deaf Club performances, including ABC Stories. 

Though the 1940s and 1950s were the golden age for Deaf Clubs, many started meeting as early as the late 1910’s.  These early clubs usually rented space in which to meet, and frequently the places changed location.  As Clubs gained in popularity, many were able to collect dues from their members and buy permanent accommodations.  These were the first public spaces owned by Deaf people, spaces carved out of a Hearing wilderness to form permanent places where Deaf could be themselves without reservation. 

Deaf Clubs were born out of the solitary lives most Deaf people led during the 1920’s to the 1950’s.  Many were working in jobs with no other Deaf people around, such as blue collar jobs in manufacturing and printing.  In a time before the civil rights movement, interpreters  and other important communication tools were frequently unavailable and Deaf people were expected to perform their mindless assembly line job without comment.  The Deaf Club was a place to go and blow off steam, where everyone spoke the same language and was ready for fun. 

In the 1960’s, Deaf Clubs began to decline.  As more and more Deaf people started working in white collar jobs such as teaching, and the civil rights movement insisted to America that everyone deserved to be treated equally, Deaf people were not so isolated in the workplace.  The invention of the TTY in the 1970’s and the wider use of Closed Captioning put the final nails in the Deaf Club coffin.  Deaf people no longer needed the Clubs for entertainment, nor to conduct business or arrange for services.  There are still a few Deaf Clubs in America, but their membership is usually small and decidedly aging.  The era of Deaf Clubs is definitively over.

pippin-logo

aslt2he musical Pippin is a coming of age story about entering the adult world for the first time.  Pippin, the main character, has just graduated from college and tries a million different things to make his life meaningful, hoping to find something that will lift him out of his mundane life and make him great.  When all his grand ideas fail, he realizes that love is the most important thing a person can aspire to.  Shepherding Pippin through life is the Main Player and his band of ensemble who make Pippin’s life magical, lead him astray, and in the end, try to convince him to kill himself in a blaze of glory because it would make an exciting finale.  The story of Pippin is easily relatable to any life, to the grand dreams we all have as young adults, but the production seems especially suited to reflect Deaf Culture.  The producers at Deaf West Theater undoubtedly realized this when they staged their magical version of Pippin, blending American Sign Language and English seamlessly into the best production I’ve ever seen. 

Everything about the musical seemed magical.  From the moment the disembodied, red hands rose from the floor and started signing, to the moment the Main Player sliced Pippin in half and made him into two people, to the six men who came out from under Pippin’s Grandmother’s huge skirt and started singing, everything about the production was surprising and delightful.  It was impossible to know what was around the next corner, and I couldn’t wait to find out.  The costumes and props reminded me of something taken from a deck of cards, but spicier and more fun, and the sets were incredible yet simple at the same time.  Though it’s so hard to pick just one thing, I think my favorite part about the show was how the choreography was staged.  Signs were transformed into movement that looked and read like dancing, but conveyed the exact feeling of the music happening on stage.  It’s the first time I’ve seen signing to music that actually conveyed the mood of the song being sung, and not just a transcript of what the song’s words are. 

While I don’t want to presume to speak for others, I believe that the story of Pippin is especially poignant when performed with Deaf players.  I have seen many magic shows take place in the Deaf community around Southern California, and it seems like the magic throughout Pippin is an extension of the magic in the community.  Another place I think the show hits home is through the character of Pippin himself.  He arrives on the scene completely exuberant, yet unable to communicate.  The Main Player slices him in half and suddenly he is two people: The speaking Pippin and the signing Pippin.  Untimately the speaking Pippin is an extension of the Main Player himself, and when Pippin refuses to cooperate and die in a blaze of glory, he is stripped of his clothes, his voice, and all the magic the Main Player has surrounded him with.  He is left instead with the woman and boy that he loves, and he finds a new voice when she starts to interpret his words for the audience.  I’m sure that Pippin’s struggle to communicate is easily relatable to many Deaf people, as is Pippin’s struggle to find a voice of his own. 

After this wonderful experience, I have decided that Pippin is my new favorite musical (it used to be Will Rogers Follies).  It spoke both cross-culturally and poignantly, using a blend of American Sign Language and English to effortlessly depict it’s relevant story line.  It’s no wonder Deaf West Theater has won so many awards.  I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.

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