All hands on stage

Cast, crew of ‘Tribes’ at Legend learn sign language for production

Posted 7/26/17

Summer is a time for most high school students to put the books away and get as far away from their school as possible, but students in Legend High School’s theater are spending their “vacation” working, rehearsing and learning a new …

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All hands on stage

Cast, crew of ‘Tribes’ at Legend learn sign language for production

Posted

Summer is a time for most high school students to put the books away and get as far away from their school as possible, but students in Legend High School’s theater are spending their “vacation” working, rehearsing and learning a new language.

The cast and crew of “Tribes,” a British play about a young woman dealing with a gradually losing her hearing, have all been learning American Sign Language to give the production authenticity and show respect to the deaf community, a larger community than many of the students, staff or audience members may realize.

“I had no idea how many people in my life are dealing with progressive hearing loss,” said Bennie Palko, technical theater director at Legend and director of the show. “I find a new person once a week.”

Only one of the students involved was fluent in ASL when rehearsals began. The rest have taught themselves along the way. Cast and crew have been using the Marco Polo app to send each other video messages in ASL, and each student had to learn to sign a song of their choice. Palko’s friends and others fluent in sign language will be watching run-throughs to make sure characters are portrayed accurately and using correct grammar.

“Grammar is funky,” said Aliza Ilano, a senior portraying the female lead, Sylvia. “I want to give the justice to the character that she deserves.”

In the play, Sylvia, whose family members are all deaf, begins losing her hearing and meets Billy, the only deaf member of a family that insisted he always speak and read lips, rather than learn sign language. Sylvia teaches Billy ASL, causing characters to confront themes of discrimination, prejudice, family and communication.

“It’s a story that every family with a deaf child goes through, whether it’s the acceptance or denial,” said junior Greyson Nicholson, who plays Billy.

Much of the dialogue in the play is signed by the characters, and some scenes will feature projected subtitles to help the audience follow along. Some scenes won’t, Palko said, so the audience can get a sense of the disconnected feeling a deaf person has when interacting with people who don’t speak ASL.

Ilano said she hopes those scenes, and the play as a whole, open audience members up enough to try to see, and hear, things in a different way.

“It will be a little uncomfortable for people,” she said. “But it’s a good kind of uncomfortable.”

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