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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Side Story: Deaf Sharks, Hearing Jets, and a Classic American Musical

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However, with the power out, the tornado sirens cannot sound the all clear. This maroons the Mac students in the dark, increasingly stuffy basement. Across town, ISD suffers a similar fate, with the end result that a planned meeting between Diane, Bob Dramin, Cara Hammond, and Paula Chance (the latter two from ISD) gets postponed indefinitely. This would have been their second official meeting, but only Bob, an instructor at Mac in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teacher Education program, makes it to Rutledge Hall, accompanied by an interpreter. Bob is a mild, thickset man with a heavy neck, his close-cropped black hair beginning to gray. In cool weather, he favors a teal Eddie Bauer jacket and blue jeans. Bob and Diane decide that there is no point in waiting for the ISD contingent, because the storm will force them to keep watch over their students. When Bob and Diane converse, Diane looks at Bob throughout, even when waiting for the interpreter to complete the process of signing what she has said. It is considered bad manners in the Deaf community for the hearing conversant to make eye contact or talk directly to the interpreter. (One is not, after all, having the conversation with the interpreter.) Bob, however, looks at Diane when he is signing and then watches the interpreter to see Diane’s response.

Diane has opted to audit Bob’s American Sign Language (ASL) course in preparation for the upcoming production. The class has been helpful, and today she finds that she recognizes some of the hand and body motions Bob makes, but not enough to comprehend their full meaning. This only serves to underscore the fact that, without the interpreter, the meeting could not take place, storm or no storm. The interpreter, however, has only been contracted to work until four. At four o’clock, she will head for home, and so, even if the ISD contingent were to arrive, the meeting would end abruptly with her departure. Nor is the interpreter likely to stick around out of some sense of altruism or charity. Within the Deaf community, the dominant school of thought holds that interpreters should not lend their services free of charge. Thus, for the interpreter to remain of her own volition after four o’clock would be an ethical violation. Even if the interpreter wanted to stay––and had no other commitments––she would, in effect, be honor-bound to leave. Diane or Bob could offer to pay her for additional time, but given the weather delays and missing personnel, this seems pointless to everyone involved.

The meeting officially ends at 3:20. Later, using a still-working home phone, Diane manages to reach Cara Hammond, a Mac graduate, class of ’95, currently employed as a speech pathologist at ISD. Cara reports that ISD’s students are still in the basement and that Diane and Bob made the right decision. Cara, who is hearing, tentatively reschedules the meeting for the next week, but in the end, that meeting too is canceled, due to scheduling conflicts.

One meeting has already taken place, in late January of 1999 (a full sixteen months before the scheduled production run). Diane, Bob, and Ruth-Ann Hecker, also with Mac’s Deaf Education Department, attend. This is the first formal meeting held on West Side Story’s behalf, and it serves as a springboard for ideas and hurdles that will later be dealt with in staging and performance. Diane lays out her basic goal of merging the talents of the Deaf Ed and Theater Departments with those of ISD, and Ruth-Ann reacts by flatly stating that West Side Story “shouldn’t be a Deaf issues play.”

Diane, who has no desire to deviate from the play’s basic text (a violation of copyright law), agrees, but stresses that she does not want to produce a play featuring deaf performers that essentially ignores the presence of deaf actors on the stage. Connections, and people failing to connect, are ongoing fascinations for Diane in her theater work. With West Side Story, she wants recommendations from Ruth-Ann and Bob on how best to deal with interpreting onstage. Ruth-Ann and Bob describe two basic and accepted styles of onstage interpreting, Simultaneous Communication (SimCom) and shadow (or shadowing).

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