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Tips on Performing for the Deaf

I recently did a show for the Indiana School for the Deaf. I am posting a summary of the experience in hopes that it may be of help to others doing shows for similar audiences. I have often done shows where I had a signer for the hearing impaired. These shows were for hearing audiences where they may have been a few hearing impaired people in the audience. I have found that it is different when the entire audience is hearing impaired an only a few hear. Here is my summary of that experience.

I did the show at the Indiana School for the Deaf last night. It went very well. The kids were elementary age. I had two signers so during the show, one signed for Drango and the other me. It took a minute to get used to that. When I would turn to Drango and be talking, the signer was doing nothing. Of course that was the signer for Drango. I couldn't really see "my" signer. Then during the walk-around a signer accompanied me.

I've done shows where I had a signer but the audience was mostly hearing. There were differences with this audience and the way I worked with the signers. With a hearing audience with a signer, those needing the signer sit where they can see the signer, usually toward one side. With this audience, those needing the signer sit all over. This means the signer must be much further forward to be seen from all over, even to the point of upstaging me. It has to be a careful balance of position on stage.

Before hand I went over everything I planned to do on stage. There is a need to allow a much longer setup time because of this. And it is a good idea to have a script of set list for the signer. I did. It also is somewhat disconcerting to have the audience not looking at you for the most part. That is a funny feeling. I'm used to the audience looking at me. Timing can also be an issue. If I was doing something I wanted the audience to watch, I needed to remember that the audience may be watching signer and I had to allow time for attention to get back to me.

This was especially important with magic if something was to suddenly appear or disappear. I did some extra physicality just before to allow and direct the transition. For some of the magic I did less talking and more non-verbal action than I normally do, almost to the point of mime. I used big exaggerated movements to tell the "story" of the magic rather than words as much as I could.

The vent part was pretty easy, especially with two signers. One stood on either side of me in the appropriate place for Drango and me. I used Drango, Krag, and the Magic Drawing Board. The routine I usually do with the later depends on a play on the sound of words, which wouldn't work with this group. I also have a place in the Drango routine where I have Drango say some gibberish. I warded the signer about this so they knew how to handle it. Any doubts about whether something would work can be answered by the signer. They have good experience so use their expertise. They will do what ever you want but it will go better if you listen to them.

The storytelling is probably the most straightforward. The signer will follow you. I did an African folk tail so I made sure they knew the general storyline, names and animals I would use. The key point is to not surprise the signer.

The audience tended to be different than what I'm used to. Because they do not use verbal they tended to be more physically expressive. They don't do the "Oh"s and "Ah"s verbally but with expression. They waved their hands in the air rather than clapping for applause. They also seemed to be more aggressive. They must see so they are used to getting in good positions. After the show I often say Drango will give hugs and many will come how to get their hugs. I did this after this show and was absolutely mobbed! It was crushing and I couldn't "tell" them to back off. A few also headed for the magic stuff. Fortunately the teachers and signers helped me. It was funny though that one boy got by and wanted to see how the coloring book worked. He picked it up and leafed through it before it was rescued. The funny thing was that the way he picked it up he only got blank pages so he never did learn anything.

I had to really stay on my toes during the walk-arounds. I couldn't tell them anything and the signer wasn't always able to be right there. Many tried to grab, especially where they shouldn't. It's fine to pet, shake hands, etc, but not grab the mechanism and rods. I had to be more careful than normal. Usually I can tell them to stop when kids do this but it doesn't work with this group.

It was a good show and lots of fun. Even though it was different and maybe harder than my normal shows, I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat.

I hope my experiences and write-up will be of use to others that may want to do a show for a similar group.