Color & Control:

A musical where the actors don’t sing, they sign

By Alex Filipe

Putting on a high school play comes with a host of difficulties; the wardrobe, the sets and of course the remembering of one’s lines. But for students at Belleville’s Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf, their lines weren’t spoken, they were signed.

“We start with the English lines, then it is translated into American Sign Language. So they have to memorize their lines, but it isn’t dependent on the paper, as they have to memorize them in ASL,” says co-director and drama teacher Lianne Valiquette.

Since ASL is expressed through movements of the hands and face, the actors couldn’t just memorize their lines from a piece of paper. However, staff members at Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf found a solution. “There is a lot more technology involved,” explains Valiquette. “We do a lot of videotaping of the lines into ASL, which the students are responsible for watching to memorize their lines.”

As if it weren’t complicated enough, the production this year was the musical Beauty & The Beast. The challenges of timing the music and acting are compounded when the actors are unable to hear the music being played. “Something unique we’ve done this year is choosing a musical. So given that, not only are we working on translating the script, but we’re also working on co-ordinating our student’s timing with the music,” says co-director and drama/ stage design teacher Jadine Reynolds.

There were challenges, but as we’d hoped, the students enjoyed their moment in the spotlight. “This role has been a lot of work,” explains Raine Folley, a Grade 12 student playing the Beast. “It’s been hard memorizing all the lines, but I really enjoy the parts where I can be scary, big and larger than life.”

Folley’s sentiments are echoed by classmate and the Beast’s main antagonist Gaston, aka Tyson Purdy. “It’s been a great experience, a lot of practicing, memorizing lines. It hasn’t been easy, especially, all the turn-taking and practicing of my lines to become Gaston.”

From managing lighting cues to dance scenes, a full ASL musical added challenges that many of those who are not deaf wouldn’t even think of. But for organizers Lianne Valiquette, Jadine Reynolds, Norbert Irion, Jenn Rowles, Kristina Wenstrom and Lucy Baily, showing their students that no matter their disability, everyone has the ability to participate.

“I’m proud of everyone,” says Valiquette. “They have all worked very hard this semester.”

Alex Filipe is a photojournalist and reporter based out of Belleville, Ontario.

Reprinted with permission from

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