‘Vagina Monologues’ uses American Sign Language
BASALT – Vaginas and monologues have never looked like this before.Two performances of “The Vagina Monologues” this weekend in Basalt will use language, both silent and spoken, to celebrate a body part many in America are still not comfortable with. The play also brings up a societal plague that is all too secretive: violence against women.The performances Saturday and Sunday, which will benefit groups that fight the problem, were organized under the auspices of V-Day, a growing effort to eradicate violence against women. V-Day is an outgrowth of “The Vagina Monologues,” the hit play by Eve Ensler.But this weekend’s performances have a twist. The play will be performed simultaneously in spoken word and American Sign Language. Shira Grabelsky, a deaf Basalt resident, is directing the shows. She agreed to an e-mail interview about her background, producing the show in two languages, deaf culture in the Roaring Fork Valley and stage fright.”V-Day is a worldwide campaign to raise public consciousness about violence against women and girls,” she said. “To play a role in this campaign was an honor for me.”How did the idea originate to do a performance of “The Vagina Monologues”? And where did the idea to have a simultaneous performance in American Sign Language come from?The idea to do a performance originated with the experience I had with the V-Day campaign. Amy Baxter is the organizer of this campaign, and she asked me if I’d be interested in directing the show. I was enthusiastic at bringing the production to the valley under the spotlight of V-Day. Putting on a play is hard enough. But coordinating the spoken-word and American Sign Language performances must have been quite difficult. Can you discuss what the rehearsals were like? Are you comfortable with how the rehearsals went?I wanted to have a simultaneous American Sign Language and spoken English production because I am deaf myself and this valley has seen the presence of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals for many years. There is the Aspen Camp School for the Deaf in Old Snowmass and several deaf residents – many of whom are involved in the production. The time was ripe to recognize the deaf community here and to bring the individuals and community to the forefront. Not only that, deaf theater is also a vibrant form of art.The rehearsal process was challenging for several reasons. There was the issue of bringing together 20-plus people from around the valley and from the Front Range. Some actors are actually meeting each other for the first time the day of the performance because schedules didn’t allow them to make the trip here! The other challenge was rehearsing in two languages and coordinating the interplay between culture, language and values. These actors are truly amazing in their commitment – they rehearsed on their own, interpreted for one another, etc.Can you discuss your background, both in terms of education and art? Is this the first play you’ve directed?I graduated from George Washington University (after) studying psychology and theater in 2003. I grew up acting and have performed professionally in Washington, D.C., and in Europe, doing ensemble work and independent productions. I also played the role of Helen Keller in a Washington, D.C., stage production of “The Miracle Worker.” This is my directorial debut and it’s a very exciting milestone for me – but obviously I couldn’t resist acting – I am also performing in the show!Can you describe what the play is about?The play is about vaginas at first glance. When you watch the play, read the book or listen to the monologues, you discover this play is about womanhood – the trials and tribulations – and how the tribulations completely shake your sense of security and that there is no excuse for the tragedies that are inflicted on women and girls. The play is about real women and how many stories really resonate through the community in many ways.How well do you think American Sign Language lends itself to the subject material of “The Vagina Monologues”?I believe that the use of ASL is an amazing way to capture these stories. ASL is our way of communicating and to communicate stories in such great depth – using our whole bodies, faces and hands gives the play new depths. We bring 3-D to these stories, and that makes the play very visual for both deaf and hearing audiences.Are you excited about this weekend’s performances? Any stage fright?I am beyond excited for the show this weekend. It carries so much meaning for me – it is the combination of deaf pride and increased awareness about violence that propels me. I look forward to the responses and the increased camaraderie between the hearing and the deaf in this valley.
What: The Vagina MonologuesWhen: 7:30 p.m. today and 3 p.m. SundayWhere: Theatre at Basalt Middle School, 151 Cottonwood DriveHow much: $15 today, $10 on Sunday.
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