IM this article to a friend!

December 23, 2004

Hear it coming: Deaf Stage returns to First Night

From: Beverly Citizen - Beverly,MA,USA - Dec 23, 2004

By Lissa Harris/ LHARRIS@CNC.COM
Thursday, December 23, 2004

As host of this year's First Night Beverly Deaf Stage, KR Glickman's excitement about bringing deaf culture to the Beverly community is contagious.

Signing in broad, energetic gestures, Glickman lets her coffee get cold as she enthusiastically describes this year's scheduled performance.

"Peter Cook is a wonderful man," she signs, spreading the fingers on both hands wide in the energetic sign for "wonderful" as her husband Tony Toledo interprets in a calm, even voice.

The Deaf Stage has been a part of First Night Beverly on and off since the first year of the festival, in 1994. At that time, Glickman approached the First Night organizing committee with the idea of having a performance in ASL (American Sign Language) as part of First Night.

"I thought, First Night is boring, it's all hearing things," she said. "Then I thought, why not have something for deaf people? Deaf theatre? That would be great."

While she has been involved with other deaf theatre events, including First Night Boston, Glickman feels that the Deaf Stage in Beverly is truly unique.

"It's my home in Beverly," she said. "I'm proud of it. It gives me a warm feeling."

While about a million Americans might be called "deaf" by virtue of having a profound loss of hearing, a smaller number - perhaps 360,000, according to Gallaudet University, a liberal arts college for the deaf - are "culturally Deaf," with a capital D, meaning they share ASL as their native language.

Glickman is a fluent ASL signer, and has taught ASL classes in Beverly for more than a decade. Far from being a kind of code for spoken English, ASL is a language in its own right, with its own grammatical rules, metaphors, idioms and untranslatable jokes. While a spoken performance, speech or conversation can be translated into ASL with the help of an interpreter - as First Night Boston does for some of its shows - it's not the same as watching a native ASL user sign, said Glickman.

At this year's First Night celebration, storyteller Peter Cook will be the star of the Deaf Stage, performing stories and poetry in a mix of American Sign Language (ASL), gestures, and "visual vernacular."

Glickman has known Cook since the 1970s, when they both attended the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, a boarding school for deaf students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Students at the Clarke School are forbidden to use sign language. Still, many of them, like Glickman and Cook, learn ASL on their own or later in life.

Cook, who did not learn ASL until the age of 18, began performing in gestures as a child in order to make himself understood. In college, at the Rochester Technical Institute of the Deaf, he and a hearing friend, Kenny Lerner, began performing together on stage. Later, they founded the Flying Words Project, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that supports visual poetry and theatre.

In some years, the Deaf Stage has had an interpreter for the hearing to translate the performances from ASL into spoken English. After some consideration, Glickman decided not to have an interpreter this year.

"It makes the deaf audience wait," she said, because ASL is faster than English, and the interpreter has to periodically interrupt the performer to make sure that the translation is going right. Also, she said, her hearing students who are learning ASL are frustrated by the interpreter, because they want to practice their skills.

Besides, says Glickman, it is a good experience for people to have the tables turned on them once in awhile - for deaf people to be the ones who know what's going on, while hearing people struggle to understand.

"Sometimes, it's a cultural shock for hearing people to come in and everyone is signing," she said. "Hearing people have to remember not to get mad. I have one deaf stage, you can go to many different musical events."

After the program, there will be a deaf community social, since events such as the First Night program often turn into social gatherings for deaf signers, said Glickman. In the past, people have come from all over New England to see the Deaf Stage, greet old friends, and have a chance to socialize in their first language.

"I don't know how many deaf people will be watching the movies, because they'll be catching up with their friends," she said.

Toledo said Cook's stories held appeal for hearing audiences as well.

"Everyone's welcome," he said. "A lot of Peter's stories are strong in mime, very visual. People will laugh without understanding ASL."


Peter Cook will tell stories for children and adults at 7 p.m., at 8 p.m., there will be an hour of Charlie Chaplin silent movies. At 9 p.m., Cook will perform a show for the grownups called "Our Language Is Our Identity."

© Copyright of CNC and Herald Interactive Advertising Systems, Inc.