Oftentimes I’m asked what I do in the theatre industry, and oftentimes I pause to think about how I can answer. To the person who asked the question, it’s a simple one. For me it’s a loaded one, given the various roles I’ve played in my 20-plus professional years in the industry.
I started out as an actor, evolved into a director, grew into a producer; got invited to sit on panels, present workshops, teach classes; and was hired as a consultant to theatre companies on the topic of Deaf theatre and theatre interpreting. Mostly these days I focus on working with theatre interpreters in my role as a DASL— Director of Artistic Sign Language.
My primary responsibility as a DASL is to help the theatre interpreters—and in this particular production, the whole cast of Visible Language—how to show the world how American Sign Language (ASL) is a beautiful language, how much more vividly a story can be told through ASL, and how moving language can be without having to be spoken.
Visible Language is a unique circumstance, because this play is actually a musical and will combine the spoken word and ASL in song as well. There are so many layers of how moved the audience member can, will, and should feel at the end of the night. Will the hearing audience completely understand what is being signed? Will the Deaf audience completely understand what’s being spoken? And will both audiences share the common experience of feeling antipathy towards the show’s antagonist and love for the show’s protagonist?
What I try to do as the DASL ties in to what Visible Language strives to do, because the common theme that is threaded throughout the show is communication. There’s a dramatic conflict in the play—as there was in real life—over whether Deaf students should be educated using ASL or whether Deaf students should be educated using oral methods. There’s also the unseen storyline of feeling isolated versus feeling inclusion. My role as the DASL for Visible Language is to help the director and the cast make sure these themes are portrayed clearly though ASL to the audience each and every performance.
I do hope that you will come to Eastman Studio Theatre at Gallaudet University and see for yourself what the cast of Visible Language will be working on—no, toiling through—over the next weeks until previews begin October 21. And when do, I hope that you walk out of that theatre with a clear sense of how important and beautiful communication is, no matter which method you use.
Visible Language, with book and lyrics by Mary Resing and music by Andy Welchel, runs October 21 to November 16, 2014, at Gallaudet University. For more information, click here.
About Aaron (in his own words):
I moved to Washington, DC, in 2011. Prior to moving to DC, I was the first Deaf and youngest Executive Director/President of the National Theatre of the Deaf from 2007–2011. Prior to becoming the Executive Director/President of NTD, I worked at several prestigious law firms in Chicago and New York City.
I have worked on numerous television, film, and theatrical productions over the course of my professional career. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to interpret Jersey Boys several times and am thankful for those memorable experiences! Oh! What a night! I also have been fortunate to have interpreted at the Kennedy Center, as well as other theatres around the country. I also travel to present my theatre interpreting workshops (Spoken English to ASL and ASL to Spoken English).
I am a 1994 graduate of the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. In 2006, I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree in Theatre Studies from the Theatre School, DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. A proud native of Chicago and avid Cubs fan (GO CUBBIES!), I was the first Deaf admitted student and graduate from this prestigious institution.