Can you hear me now?

Sinclair’s Quid Pro Quo portrays Deaf and hearing cultures

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: [standing] Ashlee Ferrell and Maximilian Santucci; [seated] Katelyn Gross and TJ Fortson perform in Quid Pro Quo through Nov. 14 at Sinclair Community College

The poster for Sinclair Community College Theatre’s upcoming play Quid Pro Quo portrays two hands with middle fingers down and the thumb and pinkie out, called a “y shape,” going back and forth—the American Sign Language (ASL) sign for “same.” That’s because one of the main goals of this production is to show that the people in the hearing and Deaf communities are different, and yet the same.

“We have worked very hard to ensure that our goals of diversity, equality and honoring the language and culture of the Deaf
community have been upheld throughout preparation and production,” says ASL
coordinator Gwendolyn McNeal. “We hoped to model how cultures and languages, while different, are more similar than they are different.”

Quid Pro Quo is a story written by a Deaf actor, about Deaf culture, starring a Deaf actor and child of a deaf adult (CODA). According to the ASL University, CODAs grow up “hearing” on the outside, but are culturally Deaf inside, giving them an awareness of both hearing and Deaf culture. Quid Pro Quo has sign language and vocal interpretation and paints neither side as lacking.

“I do believe this production gives an honest look at Deaf culture and some hearing perceptions and vice versa,” McNeal says. “There are many perspectives regarding both cultures and this play is a great step into taking an honest look at ourselves and others, examining our beliefs, values, emotions and motivations.”

Quid Pro Quo centers around two college students, Lucas and Lindsay, who meet at a party. Lucas is deaf and Lindsay is hearing but speaks ASL because her grandfather was deaf—but in the middle of the play they switch places. As in, Lucas becomes hearing and Lindsay becomes deaf.

The actor and actress communicate through ASL, but have two vocal actors interpreting for the audience the entire production. It is considered a drama, but has lighthearted and comedic moments sprinkled throughout.

Actress Katelyn Gross, who plays Lindsay, is a Sinclair Interpreter Training Program student and a CODA. Actor T.J. Fortson, who plays opposite her as Lucas, came all the way from Texas.

“Since it was a play written by a Deaf actor about Deaf culture, we wanted a Deaf actor to play Lucas,” Borst explains.

But no one locally responded to the request. So through a Sinclair Cultural Diversity grant, the theatre and ASL departments found, hired and brought Fortson in from Texas (complete with an airport welcoming party fit for a celebrity). Fortson might have a different concept of barbeque, but he has fit right in with the Sinclair group.

“T.J. is one of the most tender and sentimental people I have ever met,” Borst says.

Fortson and Gross are accompanied by Sinclair theatre majors Ashlee Ferrell and Max Santucci. The pair took ASL classes over the summer and serve as the vocal interpreters during the show.

The play began as a senior thesis by
Garrett Zuecher, who is now heavily involved in the Deaf theatre scene in New York City.
The theatre department originally learned about the show when it was performed at a college theatre festival, but it took them
a while to hunt down the play rights and script.

When Borst originally agreed to direct the production, she says she did not realize how big a project it was going to be—how rewarding. She notes that the rehearsal process has taken twice as long because it’s working in two languages. Although the Theatre and ASL departments have partnered together for years, this is the first time a performance has incorporated Deaf and hearing actors in the show itself.

“I have seen productions like this, in major cities such as Washington D.C. and
New York, but have never had the opportunity to be involved in something locally,”
McNeal says. “Sinclair’s ASL Department provides interpretation for all of the Sinclair Theatre productions, but this is a first—to have sign language on stage with voice interpretation.”

The endeavor has been a massive undertaking, but both departments view the collaboration as a positive learning experience.

Borst says, “It’s been a process of learning about the Deaf culture and community. They are a wonderful, generous community. I had no idea how welcoming they are to the hearing, how patient, and how supportive they are.”

McNeal adds, “I have loved every minute working with the cast and crew. Each person has been thoughtful, engaged, open-minded, and truly wants this production to be an accurate portrayal. They have been supportive, patient and accepting of the things we have shared with them. We have all had the opportunity to be teachers and to be students in this process.”

Quid Pro Quo will run through Nov. 14 at Sinclair’s Black Box Theatre in Building 2. Show times are 8 p.m on Fridays and Saturdays, with one Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Nov. 8, and one student matinee at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10. All tickets cost $15 with the exception of a Throwback Thursday performance at 7 p.m. on Nov. 12, where all seats are $10 each. Tickets are available at sinclair.edu/tickets or by VideoPhone at 937.641.8419. For more information, please call 937.512.2076.

 
Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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