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Visual Theatre

The journey to create a visual theatre does not exclusively belong to deaf people or any other special group. Living on the fringe of the arts creates a rarefied place that a wide variety of artists, hearing and deaf, have gone to visit. Part of the artistic motivation to explore essentially connects to the human need to express visually across language and cultural boundaries the issues and concerns that need to be conveyed without the hindrance of text. Deaf Theatre developed from a natural tendency for deaf people to seek a visual means of expression. Visual theatre, when used by hearing artists, is motivated by other potential areas of need.

I wonder if part of the drive towards visual theatre, by hearing artists, is simply a response to the deluge of incoming information. By constantly being bombarded with verbal information there may be a point when an artist simply wants to escape into creative work that responds to a nonverbal part of the brain or creative process for these artists. Can hearing artists and deaf artists, coming from two different perspectives provide new insights into the process of creating visual work?  This is something to ponder and see if there is a way to follow this trend towards a conclusion that is helpful to this new performing arts approach in the 21st century. One organization that is worked hard to support this concept was Quest 4 Arts especially through their festival activities that tended to occur every two years in the Baltimore, Maryland area.

One approach to understanding visual theatre is to consider the term “intermedia” which was developed over a period of years by Higgins in an attempt to help understand new kinds of performance art that began to emerge after the 1960’s

Intermedia chart

In its current form, American Deaf Theatre is language dependent. Internationally other Deaf theatres focus on the non-manual aspects of performance.  These types of stage performances rely upon gesture, mime, and physical movement along with the minimalization or absence of formal sign language. This helps Deaf theatres circumvent issues of accessibility. It reduces the need for audiences to understand sign language or the spoken language of that country.  Interpreters or additional hearing actors are not needed to communicate the intent of these productions.  Actors, deaf or hearing, can be present on stage with an equitable status and each actor uniquely contributes to the overall success of the production.

Earlier in the 20th century American Deaf Theatre, especially the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD), was an innovative leader in establishing the idea that there could be professional Deaf Theatre that could function successfully and profitably in mainstream society.  During numerous tours, nationally and internationally, NTD inspired the establishment of other Deaf theatres on a global scale.  Today, many of these Deaf Theatres, originally inspired by NTD, continue to flourish while NTD struggles to survive in its 50th year of existence.

To move towards a more visual American Deaf Theatre will require innovation and originality that partially derives from earlier efforts to develop the performance aspects of sign language. Bernard Bragg, an early innovator in this area, developed Visual Vernacular based on the non-manual features of American Sign Language and use of specific cinematic techniques that are complementary to ASL during a performance.  Use of body shifting from ASL, closeup, long shorts, slow and fast motion movements from cinema, to name a few examples, were merged to create a visual method of performing with sign language.  His work was intended to build upon the visual elements inherent in mime, gesture, and physical movement to create a vivid visual experience than what could be experienced by watching performances using these individual techniques in isolation.

In a prior reflection, I wrote about my life experiences involving hearing aids.  After that, there was a period of years without hearing aids where I developed my skills at lip reading into a fine art. Then ten years ago after years of research, reflection, and inner struggle with the idea of doing it, I finally went through the medical procedure to acquire a cochlear implant.

There is one poem about that topic in the writings area which reflects on the quandary of being culturally Deaf and at the same time crossing the line to have a cochlear implant to become some kind of ‘borg’ in the world. I had low expectations as to what it would do for me and much to my surprise it has worked very well for me. I am able to get through days very well out in the world with it on and for all purposes, if I would choose to do so, pass as ‘normal’ in the world. This is an odd thing for me to say because the experience of being deaf is my normal as opposed to the majority who think it is what disables me as a person.

I find it to be positive that I can choose to hear or choose to go about my day in silence. Something that many of my hearing friends have wished they could do as well.  One of the ironies of the cochlear implant process is that the procedure itself destroys any residual hearing the person may have prior to the implant.  As a result, I am, from an audiological perspective, deafer than many deaf people who do not have cochlear implants. Yet, within the culture, I am now less Deaf than I was before the cochlear implant.

The argument goes these days something like this:  Does the implant make me less culturally deaf which appears to be the sentiment these days within the deaf community.  That is, for all purposes, the elephant in the living room for deaf culture. No one wants seems to want to address what it means to be culturally Deaf and at the same time have a cochlear implant as the two seem to be mutually exclusive. As a result, there is a very subtle type of shunning within the community. Or so it seems to me from my personal experiences.

Meanwhile, I go through the process of trying to figure out what all this leads to and how I can continue to have a meaningful life as a D/deaf person in spite of the perspectives of others. Since hearing aids are not much of an issue these days perhaps if they made the cochlear implants look more like hearing aids then everything would be hunky dory.

Or not?

Internet Universe

Lately, I have been increasing the amount of writing I do on this blog and other sites.  As I do this kind of writing I have noticed how strange it is to send these thoughts, messages, and feelings out into this virtual space without any idea of where it is going and if anyone sees it at all.

This causes me to recall something I read years ago related to a comment by Stephen King that has stayed with me.  I do not recall if it was an interview or an article. In responding to a question related to why he is a prolific writer and what motivates him to continue to write part of his response was, “I write to those downstream”.  At the time I was struck by how beautiful an analogy that was to explain why writers write.

As a writer one can only hope that their writing will have an impact at some time and place far removed from when the writer first created the words in the first place.  All of this thinking leads to this short creative piece.

I begin to send a message yet,

my hand pauses as I ask,

Is it loneliness, curiosity, or longing?

Pressing the send key I wonder, who are you,

you who have never seen me nor I you?

Are you male-female-young-old-or in between?

Or is everything jumbled together for myriad reasons that neither sender nor receiver can explain?

Across the Internet, vast and mysterious, byte-by-byte, I journey light years in nano-seconds and yet wait…

Silent Musings

Sometimes it startles me when I remove my cochlear implant.  The moment between sound and silence is jarring as if one just made a leap from one plane of existence to another.   No time to yell “Geronimo,” no apparatus to pull that will create some kind of parachute for the mind to adjust from the one experience to the other.  Sometimes the brain, in that moment of panic between sound and silence begins to rummage through its synapses files seeking some solace in what is remembered. Tossing out sounds like a homeless person rummaging through an alley garbage can. Pulling out whatever can be found that is of value.

As I thought about these kinds of experiences between sound and silence I recall that sometimes I  use the internet as a form of distraction while I wait for the brain to calm down. Over time this short creative piece has started to develop.

The day fades, the cochlear implant removed,

induces phantom sounds—

of a train horn—

the ringing of nothing—

the call of loons—

the barking of dogs—

and random white noise.

So I surf the net- hanging out-to distract myself,

a new face appears—

a tiny hint of a smile…

breathe, I said–

you got up, returned and the fan gently blew—

a few wisps of red hair—

‘Hot’ you said…and went away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update

I have been neglectful about keeping my posts to this site up to date.  Since I have recently resolved to get back to writing again, I will resume posting on this site. Where in the past I have focused primarily on Deaf theatre, from this point on I will be posting various creative writing efforts along with anything new to comment about the genre of Deaf Theatre.  My plan is to get this site up to a more active level and add more content so it continues to be useful to anyone who happens to come by for a visit.

Stay tuned for more as I develop it over the next few months.

March 25, 2017

Today I made a short presentation on Deaf Performers, comparing the pre-internet issues with the post-internet issues facing Deaf Performers in Theater and Film. The presentation was more focused on film as it was presented during the Rochester Deaf Film Festival activities and was part of an all day presentation process in the RIT Wallace Center located in the RIT ASL and Deaf Studies Community Center (RADSCC).

This presentation touches upon the topic and I will add the power point presentation to this post.  In subsequent post in this topic area I will expand more on the PP and explain/discuss my perspectives on the topic.  As always, these are my opinions, insights, and thoughts on performance art particularly related to live theater.  This and subsequent posts will take note of how multimedia, CGA, and special effects has permeated live performance work since the advent of the internet, social media and other types of hosting sites.  There has been a prolific infusion of performance material that contains a wide range of quality in regards to production values, performance, and fluency of delivery.

Two key take always to consider. First, the need for cross-over appeal and ‘hooks’ in today’s digital marketplace  access is greater, global in nature, however many people clamoring for the attention of everyone and it’s hard to win out.  Second, with these new ways of working and performing in digital/ virtual spaces how does one successfully market themselves so they actually earn income on the sites where they are parking their content and the fees they ask are not contested but accepted by those interested in the creative content being offered for your eyes to enjoy.

Theatre & Film-v2