Hearing and Deaf Together in the Finger Dance

Stepping Stone Theatre For Youth Development presents the world premiere of The Finger Dance: A Deaf Girl’s Journey Through Music […]

Stepping Stone Theatre For Youth Development presents the world premiere of The Finger Dance: A Deaf Girl’s Journey Through Music by Mark Steven Jensen and Flint Keller with music by Gary Rue. Also directed by Keller, this bi-lingual play (American Sign Language and English) features a spirited and talented cast of seventeen hearing and Deaf children. The Finger Dance opens Friday, March 9 and runs through March 25. All performances take place in the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Auditorium at The Landmark Center in
Downtown Saint Paul. For Tickets and Information call (651) 225-9265. Hearing-impaired customers may reach us through the Minnesota Relay Service, 1-800-627-3529. Group rates are available for groups of twenty or more.

 The 17 young people in the show unite hearing and Deaf from all ages and areas of the Twin Cities, with some actors (and their parents) travelling up to an hour each way to take part in the nightly rehearsals in St. Paul. When the production began just a month ago, the hearing and Deaf struggled to find common ground.  One of the hearing actors, Paul McGlave, Cole in the play, said that “it was hard at the beginning, not being able to talk to everybody and not being able to understand them. We could only really hang out with the kids who could hear, but now that we learned a little sign language, it’s making it easier. I really liked meeting a whole bunch of people that I wouldn’t have met before, and just hanging out with them.”

Terria Middlebrook, who plays the role of Kelly, shared that he also “liked getting together as a whole group. Sometimes, in school, people make fun–that Deaf and hearing are different.  Here, we worked together and learned that we’re all human beings.” Terria continues to say that his hearing ability has no affect on his dreams.  “There are famous deaf actors, and they are an inspiration to anybody.”

As ASL Director, Nicole Zapko developed the children’s ability to communicate through sign language, which was essential in breaking down the barriers between the two groups.  She said, now, the actors are  “like a family.”  Such unity, though, came only through the result of Zapko’s and a team of others’ careful guidance, and everybody’s dedicated practice and enthusiasm, because the circumstances of the play introduced many challenges. In The Finger Dance, every line spoken by an actor is interpreted by another actor. If a Deaf actor has a line, a hearing actor will translate the line for the hearing audience; if a hearing actor has a line, a Deaf actor will translate the line for the Deaf audience. So, every actor faced the challenge of learning their own lines, learning other people lines, learning a completely foreign language, learning how to give visual meaning to sign language, learning where to be on the stage when acting and where to be on the stage when interpreting, and somehow changing from kid clothes into black interpreting shirts and back again while never going offstage.  All of this in just one month!

And, in just one month, not only did these children find language bridges, build friendships and combine their efforts to focus on a sincere, energetic, and thoughtful play, they, as director and writer, Flint Keller, said learned to understand each other. Communication helped these children to realize that “They share certain experiences regardless of the fact that they speak different languages.  It goes beyond just being able to say ‘Hi. How was your day at school?’ It goes to the level of ‘You live a life that has elements that are just like my life.’ The cultural barriers between mutual experiences is small. They are all teenage kids…no matter what roots they have.”

SteppingStone Theatre for Youth Development is dedicated to developing the whole child by using educational theatre programs and full staged productions to build self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of community while celebrating diversity in a supportive, noncompetitive environment.