Signing Shakespeare

Brooke Cordova, right, and Maxwell Bradney discuss how their American Sign Language performances will work.

An organization with traditional roots is about to launch a nontraditional program.

This Friday, Sept. 7, the Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) is starting a First Fridays American Sign Language (ASL) Literature Slam Series.

Known for its Shakespearean plays and old-time radio programs, LBSC organizers have decided to add a new dimension to its repertoire of offerings. On the first Friday evening of the month for the rest of the year, the group will host an “open mic” style presentation of literature and poetry, shared through the motions and facial expressions of ASL.

According to LBSC Producer Dana Leach, the company first began using ASL interpreters at its radio shows three years ago. Adding interpreters allowed members of the deaf community to join the audience and experience the performances.

Long Beach resident Maxwell Bradney, a professional interpreter and a volunteer at LBSC, will coordinate the ASL Literature Slam Series. He said he sees the program as a way to create something new in a welcome, open environment.

Bradney started ASL studies when he was 13. He took sign language classes with his father, whose hearing was failing, and said he “became fascinated with ASL and its beauty and form.” He went on to get a BA in Deaf Studies with a focus on ASL Literature.

“My goal is to use these ASL slams as a way to reach out to get more deaf performers involved and create a fun, safe meeting space for the Long Beach deaf community,” Bradney said.

At Friday’s inaugural event, Bradney will be signing two pieces, an original work and an ASL classic. Another LBSC interpreter, Brooke Cordova, is planning to present one or two Shakespeare sonnets and possibly a Sylvia Plath poem.

Like Bradney, Cordova said she fell in love with ASL as soon as she started studying it. She said she gave up her creative writing major in order to major in Deaf Studies.

“I love how visual the language is and how it affords us users the ability to play with our signs, stretch them and mold them in new ways to make visual poetry,” Cordova said.

Cordova said she plans to wear dark, solid clothing to make her hands more clearly visible when she performs on Friday. She said she will not be speaking the words of her pieces in order to devote her full attention to signing. However, she is open to the idea of someone else reading her pieces while she moves, especially if this would help bridge communication between the hearing and deaf communities.

Bradney said he wants all potential performers to feel welcome and encouraged to participate.

“I hope that there will be some creative and courageous souls who will get up on stage and share their stories/jokes/poems/monologues, etc.,” Bradney said. “I want to allow for those people I may not know about to have an equal opportunity to showcase their skill.”

The ASL Literature Slam Series will be at the Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave. Admission is free. The doors will open at 7 p.m., with performances at 8 p.m. For more information, go to www.lbshakespeare.org.

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