GJ Stillson MacDonnell interviewed Helen Walsh for the Disability Visibility Project® at StoryCorps San Francisco on December 4, 2014. In this clip, Helen Walsh talks about her work in creating accessible theater as a disability rights advocate. Helen shares about a specific theater production with a Lesbian company that challenged stereotypes of the d/Deaf community and sought to create dialogue between Lesbian, straight, disability, and non-disabled communities.
Instrumental Music – solo guitar, upbeat chords, soft, inviting pace
GJ Stillson MacDonnell: Tell us a little bit about how the production of A Late Snow came to being and what it was about.
Helen Walsh: So I was a part of a women’s theater company called Tribad Productions. I was probably 20, 21 at the time. I had been principal in many of the plays and had directed a few. And I had come across a play that had been done many times by many other theater companies. It was called The Late Snow.
Helen Walsh: The whole play itself, The Late Snow, is about a relationship. It’s about a big issue during a snowstorm that occurs. There’s a lot of communication. So when I read the play I thought, this is a great play in terms of a focal point being communication.
Instrumental – solo cello chords, dramatic staccato down and up strokes, feeling of anticipation
Helen Walsh: What I did is, at the time I was taking a class, um, it was an intermediate sign language class. So I decided to approach the producers and propose a show, and to also propose open casting.
GJ Stillson MacDonnell: But you wound up having casts that had both –
Helen Walsh: I wound up casting that had deaf, hard of hearing and person with hidden disabilities.
GJ Stillson MacDonnell: And then you had interpreters on stage…
Helen Walsh: And I also had interpreters on stage and I built a set, which was new to put the voice interpreter up from the stage.
Helen Walsh: I remember though, in particular, one of the cast members who in the beginning when she was cast, she came up to me and she said ‘I don’t think I can do this because I’m uncomfortable with people that are d/Deaf.’ She was the character that was the girlfriend and that woman was a d/Deaf actor. But by the end of the show she had come into a new experience. Because at first she thought, it’s not something that I’m comfortable with, I’m scared of doing this, I’m not sure how to talk to d/Deaf people.
Instrumental – repeat of solo cello chords, dramatic staccato down and up strokes, feeling of anticipation
Helen Walsh: The audience at the end would be able to start understanding the beauty of ASL as a language instead of as something foreign to them or something that is not a language, something for ‘those’ people. In particular, at the end of the play, the voice interpreter does not voice interpret for her last lines.
Helen Walsh: And that particular play had half the audience of deaf, hard of hearing people coming to see it. There was gays, straight, our audience was diverse for a lesbian women’s show.
Helen Walsh: It opened up conversation. One of the things the Disability Movement has been all about is pride. What we have been trying to communicate all these years is that what’s important is to be a participant in your life and a participant in the community. I hope to the future now, which is about twenty years later that I did this, that all those people that were involved with the play have something that they took away from it.
Instrumental – solo piano music, serene melody implying a continued calm motion forward towards a distant arrival
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(“November Mist” and “4 Point Path” by Blue Dot Session and “Glitter” by Podington Bear) All songs and sound effects included under an Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License
Disability Visibility Project® (12/4/14). DVP Interview: GJ Stillson MacDonnell interviewed Helen Walsh. Retrieved from: https://wp.me/p4H7t1-XSm
A photo featuring Helen Walsh was taken on December 4, 2014:
Close up portrait of Helen Walsh facing the camera. Helen has short brown hair that sticks up at the top, is wearing rounded, rectangular, black framed glasses, and appears to be white. Helen smiles slightly with teeth showing. Helen is wearing a black T-shirt with “ADA” written in red. She also wears an open button down shirt that is dark blue.
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project™ by Yosmay del Mazo and Alice Wong with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com