For the past 60 days, I have been intensively studying the Italian language. I want to learn Italian in order to better serve our ASL Opera project since 50% of the most popular operas were written in Italian (25% were written in German, and 15% were written in French). I understand modern Italian isn’t the same as “original opera Italian” — but learning something new only helps deepen the appreciation of the comprehension of the context of the original aesthetic. In this article, I will share with you some of the treasures, and techniques, I have been using to apply a greater understanding to my Italian learning.
[UPDATE: September 12, 2023; our ASL Opera Project website is now live! Join us there for new videos, translation updates, and for consultation concerning the right interpretation of Opera in American Sign Language!]
[UPDATE: July 11, 2023. Janna and I met with the Metropolitan Opera to discuss heightened ASL interpreting for their performances. The meeting was positive, forward-thinking, and hopeful! We will soon update with more information!Here’s the July 11 update!]
My delightful wife Janna Sweenie and I are big lovers of opera. Opera is the pinnacle of all the Performing Arts — Painting, Acting, Voice, Costumes, Lights and Sets — and when put together, in unison, in an exaggerated and elevated performance, the entire world glows and resonates! We have always been dismayed that opera is not often, if ever, interpreted in American Sign Language for the Deaf like all Broadway shows are interpreted. Janna and I are currently working on our “Opera Project” where she will present ASL renderings of famous opera arias. We will place those performances online as proof-of-concept. This is a challenging, but rewarding, and complex academic process of interpretation and adaptation, and implementation.
I have been a big fan of Apple Fitness+. However, after completing the workouts for a several months now, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Apple’s misuse of Deaf Culture — in particular, ASL — in their workouts, is a disengaging, and phony, cultural appropriation intended to falsely imply inclusion, when the real aftereffect is a complete failure of meaning. At the beginning, and at the end of almost every workout, but never during a workout, the non-Deaf, and non-ASL fluent, trainers toss in a little ASL sign — a gesture, really — like “ready” or “welcome” or “thank you” and it just comes across as clunky; a falsely sprinkled twinkle on a star. Those throwaway “ASL” signs do not fit the spoken words of the trainer, or even really the intent of the class — they’re just movements intended to appease, and impress, and to not really communicate any emotion or context. Apple uses “ASL signs” as a winking trinket without the inherent value of a cultural totem or the magic of a talisman.
Guillermo del Toro’s new movie — The Shape of Water — is a high-minded movie that looks great, sounds good, but ultimately fails to consecrate the point of the story: Communication Creates Love.
There are all sorts of movie tropes packed into the The Shape of Water — but the center of the swirling is a “mute” janitor, played by Sally Hawkins, who falls in love with a sea monster because they are able to communicate using American Sign Language; and that major flaw in discovery, reason, and accessibility, will serve as the remainder of my argument why The Shape of Water, in the end, fails as a facilitation for a grander, romantic, connection of human/serpent longing.
Let’s agree on one thing: Deaf West’s excellent Broadway revival of “Spring Awakening” is a fine production currently showing at the Brooks Atkinson theatre in a limited run. The sets and lights are magnificent. The staging is right. The actors are completely superb. The effort is noble, but perhaps, imperfect in the execution of its essence, and it is in that vacuum of those slight flaws in amber that this review reflects — to make you think and wonder in preservation and ponder beyond the simple joy of watching a few Deaf actors on a live Broadway stage.
Did you know there’s a troubling, but rich, history using the term “Deaf-Mute” in America? Janna and I have written a new book “conversation” about that pejorative label released by David Boles Books Writing & Publishing titled — Return of the Deaf-Mute: The Lost Legacy of the Greatest American Deaf Generation — and in our book, we examine the “Deaf-Mute” stereotype in history, its effect on common culture, and the role of human tolerance in society today. How did the “Deaf-Mute” label become such a colloquial monstrosity that it has repressed generations of Deaf people in America — just because it was a convenient, default, categorization that had nothing to do with context or fact of condition?