A Sign of the Times

Have you ever stood on a street corner or maybe sat on a bus and "eavesdropped" on a signed conversation? It's a remarkable sight, watching the flying hands and fingers combined with animated facial gestures that are the defining characteristics of this language. Properly known as American Sign Language but always referred to as ASL, it's the third most commonly used non-English language in our country. This most expressive means of communication is the common thread that holds together the American deaf culture.

That culture will be celebrated Saturday evening when Scottsdale Center for the Arts presents a performance by Deafywood. The company was founded in Hollywood back in 1996 by artistic director John Maucere as an ensemble of deaf or hard-of-hearing actors, comics and dancers. They present topical comedy sketches and dances aimed at the concerns of the deaf community. The show is performed in ASL with voice interpreters providing simultaneous translation for hearing audience members.

Before the days of computers, teletypewriters (TTYs) and closed-captioned televisions, the deaf community had much less access to mainstream society. In those days, many "Deaf Clubs" existed as a social gathering place. Providing a place to use ASL and be among people with the same experiences and frustrations, the Deaf Clubs represented a celebration of deaf culture. Today's technological advances have allowed hearing-impaired people more entry into the hearing world, while unfortunately bringing on the decline of the tradition of Deaf Clubs.

The performers of Deafywood hope to rekindle a bit of that spirit. The aim is to bring ASL/deaf culture humor and stories to both deaf and hearing audiences. Their sketches satirize current social issues with an emphasis on the everyday lives of deaf people in a hearing world. Characters such as "John Leno" (Jay's lesser-known brother who just happens to do an ASL talk show) and "SuperDeafy" (caped superhero assisting ASL users dealing with uncomprehending hearing people) shine light on frustrations dealt with on a daily basis. Besides the sketches, dancers perform to the vibrations of some hot music.

Deafywood's seasoned professionals have credits on such television productions as Pacific Blue, PBS' Kid's World, 7th Heaven and Law and Order. The cast members also include a former Miss Deaf America and several members of the acclaimed National Theatre of the Deaf.

Deafywood is scheduled to perform at Scottsdale Center for the Arts on Saturday, January 15, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office. Call 480-994-2787 for details.

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David Gofstein