Arts·SEEN & HEARD

A sign isn't literally a word: How a Deaf and hearing theatre group conquered language barriers

Our new series Seen & Heard follows the group as they learn to communicate clearly before putting on their adaptation of The Little Mermaid.

Our new series Seen & Heard follows the group as they learn to communicate clearly

(Seen & Heard)

In our new digital series Seen & Heard, streaming now, we follow the story of a 30-person Deaf and hearing theatre group in Montreal as they cast and stage a unique adaptation of The Little Mermaid. But before they mounted the play for a Deaf and hearing audience, the group first had to learn how to communicate clearly with one another.

The play's director and ASL instructor Jack Volpe explains how English and ASL are similar and different: "They each have their own form and structure. English phrases — you hear them, you can also write them and read them. In sign language you don't have a written form, but it still has structure that is able to be received visually. So it's a unique language in that way. It retains a very different structure than English."

Watch the video:

Go behind the scenes of our new series Seen & Heard where a theatre group of 30 Deaf and hearing people mount a unique adaptation of The Little Mermaid. 2:15

It's not just a matter of translating from sign to word and word to sign. "Some people misunderstand the language and think that this sign means that English word exactly," ASL Interpreter Fawn Alleyne tells us. In the video above, she takes us through a video of director Volpe and the show's art director, props maker and voice actor for Triton (wow, a lot!) Riki Shimoda working through a communication breakdown. The two get confused about Shimoda's use of the word "things."

"In English, the word 'things' could mean abstract things like concepts or ideas and it could also mean tangible things," explains Alleyne "But in sign language, the sign 'things' is always tangible."

"As they overcome the communication breakdown, Riki is starting to gain a deeper understand of sign language. It's really a cool process!"

Find out more about Seen & Heard and stream the full series now!