The Deaf Experience

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , | Posted On Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 2:53 PM

This morning in Carol’s class we discussed the ‘Deaf Experience’ and started to go into how it relates to the literature we would be reading – but we ran out of time. I did relate my own ‘Experience’, or at least some of it, to the class (half of whom are in the play). I figured it would make a decent blog entry for tonight since we’re still blocking stuff and being boring.

Especially since Death’s primary role in the last half of the play is to watch – which leaves me with very little to do for the remainder of the blocking period.
I was born with a moderately severe to severe hearing loss in both ears, a trait I inherited from my father. Like my father, my left ear is slightly better than my right one. When I reached the proper age I was placed in a school for deaf children and this is what happened:

(I apologize if people become offended, but these are pretty much the words to come out of my mother’s mouth)

”We put you into a school for deaf children and for the first two days you sat in the corner quietly by yourself while all the other children screamed and yelled and cried and wailed. On the second day you walked up to the teacher and said, in perfect English, “Teacher, will you play with me?

“As soon as she heard that, she picked you up and took you straight out of the classroom. She called us to pick you up and said that you were far too intelligent and smart to be in that class and needed to be in a mainstream school.”

Confession: for a very long time after that, I refused the label of ‘Deaf’ because I felt that I was smarter than those weird people who couldn’t speak and had to sign. If someone called me Deaf, I would become instantly combative. This persisted for a very long time, I am sorry to say. It didn’t help that I never met another person with hearing loss until around my junior or senior year of high school.

Up until the end of my college career, the only Deaf members of society I had associated with more than once were my ASL teachers. I took about three semesters worth of ASL before graduating, and picked it up relatively quickly. Unfortunately, in the four years since my last ASL class, I have forgotten almost everything. Everything except cursing.

These days, I am happy to report, I no longer consider myself ‘better’ than Deaf people. Instead I consider myself better than everyone.

Just kidding.

…but not really.


…I never made much of an effort to connect with the Deaf community, despite the fact there is a thriving segment of the population in my hometown. This play, For Every Man, Woman, and Child is the first true interaction I’ve had with people who suffer the same prejudices as me. And I’ll probably be all the better for it.

Now, as for the play…

Warning: Annoying In-Depth Character Analysis to Follow

As always, this note bears repeating:

Any textual analysis in this blog will usually involve me blowing smoke out of my ass. I over-analyze everything. By the end of the rehearsal process, when I've "locked down" the character, I've discarded most of the ideas I've been kicking around. I'd estimate that I only end up using 20% of the concepts I've played with.

To begin with, the character of Everyone in this version of the play has been split into two roles – representing the male and female halves of humanity. When I first heard of this decision, I could not help but think of The Origin of Love from the play Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The above video is captioned but is probably not suitable, thematically, for younger audiences. If you are a young person and reading this blog, go do something more age appropriate and look at online porn.

When Death is onstage – he is, more likely than not, standing between the two halves of Everyone, serving as a bridge between the two of them. In the text Death also serves as a bridge between the Great Spirits of the Universe. Death, in essence, is written as a connecting force between two opposites: whether it is the divine and the mortal, or heaven and earth, or the future and the past, or life and… death.

The most intriguing aspect of this bridging? The choice of the author to have Death communicate through mime. Death does not sign (except once when he fingerspells his name), and he does not speak. Death is serving as a bridge between the hearing and Deaf cultures by breaking down the language barrier and communicating in a way that they can both understand.

That’s the idea, anyways.

Some phrases are actually proving far more difficult than expected. How does one mime ‘sister’ or ‘cousin’ without resorting to sign language or speech? It’s proving to be quite a task and I’ve spent countless hours on a gesture only to realize it makes no sense and had to start all over. These mimes have to be crisp, clear, and easily recognizable.

I can only hope I’m up to the task.


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