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When you want to say "I love you," how do you really say it? And how do you say it if that person speaks a different language? Or if they're in a different country? Can you really say, "I love you" through email or through a text? How does this most powerful, most profound of human emotions cross the divide of differing languages?
Love, language, what is said, what is unsaid — what can be translated, and emotions that defy translation, are the moving, ambitious themes at the center of "Love Person," a new theatrical production at Company One in Boston. The languages at play here are English, Sanskrit, email and American Sign Language.
One of the main characters in "Love Person" is Free, a deaf woman in an intense, turbulent romance with her partner, Maggie. "Free" is played by actress Sabrina Dennison, who is also deaf. We spoke with her last week about acting, communicating and love with assistance from interpreters Chris and Aimee Robinson.
Company One's "Love Person" runs through June 23 at the Boston Center for the Arts.
- Sabrina Dennison, actress (interview recorded with assistance from interpreters Chris and Aimee Robinson)
Meghna Chakrabarti: Sabrina, thank you for joining us in the studio. Your interpreters are Chris and Amy Robinson, so I just want to say thank you to them. I guess my first question for you is how long have you been an actress for?
Sabrina (through an interpreter): Actually, I would say since I was six. My mom was the host of a party, and obviously I didn't understand what was going on, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I wanted to have some attention because I wasn't able to communicate with anybody. So, I decided to come into the middle of the living room, and perform like I was making pancakes in the middle of the living room. I would flip them up, it would stick on the ceiling, I would look, and people would just laugh. And that’s when I realized I was an actress.
Well maybe you can help us understand the title of the play, “Love Person.” Why is it named that in particular?
Sabrina: Wow. There’s a line in the play that I’m frustrated with. In the script it says, “Poetry is like Shakespeare.” But from Sabrina’s perspective, “Love Person” can mean so many things, like Shakespeare. We talk about being in love with language, texting someone and getting this feeling of awe. It can also be physical as well. This play, I would have to say, is about, from my perspective, receiving love, through many different ways, especially language.
I hope this doesn't sound too ignorant, but for example, when you’re speaking through American Sign Language, not only are you communicating words, but it’s a physical act.
Sabrina: To be honest with everyone in this room, my hands are killing me some times — I have to say, because I use all of my energy and it comes through me kinesthetically, so I use my muscles. So when I’m signing, I use all of this. And it’s stressful, I tense up. So you’re talking about emotion, that affects me physically — how I'm signing. But at the same time, I need to make sure I take care of myself, much the same like a hearing actor would make sure that their voice is up to par before they perform, I need to make sure that I'm okay.
Now let's talk a little bit about one of the points of frustration that the characters Maggie and Free engage in. And that is that the character of Free gets really upset when Maggie both signs and speaks at the same time. Why does that cause such friction with the couple?
Sabrina: When people use simultaneous communication, it's ugly. It's ugly to see it, because the language itself is so beautiful and cherished and artistic, it feels disrespectful to me and the deaf community because they're not using our language. And I'll say to someone, "Can you say that again, please?"
You know, I am curious though about how people move between languages, whether it's electronic languages and American Sign Language, or spoken English and written poetry, because it does seem that there are certain modes of communication that say things better.
Sabrina: My mom and I used to gesture, it was great (I love you mom!). When she was upset, she would start talking. Actually I would know she was using her voice and I would say, "Mom, I don't understand why you're using your voice. I can't hear you." And she would say, "It makes me feel better," especially when she was yelling. So I think signing is clearer and safer to the person that's having this conversation with me. But I do write, and I also draw pictures through the words or all around the words. And I put a little bit of ASL in the picture, as well. So ASL is always with me.
Now for my last question for you, Sabrina, I am going to ask you to speak as a member of the deaf community. What has it been like for you to bring this character to life on the stage?
Sabrina: It's nice that the deaf community can come to see this show any time they want to. That's the greatest breakthrough, because I love theater. I can't say enough about it. I love theater, but sometimes having to go through an interpreter — which is still great — means that often times you can only go at a specific time to see an interpreted show, like a Wednesday night is the only night that that the show would be interpreted. So on a Wednesday night, getting all dressed up and going out just doesn't make sense. This whole production is a breakthrough, and I hope productions like this continue so everybody has the same access to art, to theater, what have you, to everything.
Sabrina Dennison plays the part of Free in the new Company One production of "Love Person." Sabrina, thank you so much.
Sabrina: Thank you, its been an absolute honor.
Sabrina spoke with us in American Sign Language, and we have had the help of her interpreters, Chris and Amy Robinson.
This segment aired on June 13, 2012.
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