Dawn Jani Birley and the Deaf Crows

It’s been a memorable day.  Dawn Jani Birley visited our classroom and participated in our theatre class preparing for Apple Time and Other Stories to be showcased at the Launch Festival of Youth Performance in March and fully performed again on June 2 and 3rd at the Artesian Theatre in Regina.  Dawn is a world renowned deaf actress, featured in many stage plays and films in Canada, United States and Europe.  Times have changed since Dawn’s days at Thom Collegiate where she was once told she couldn’t participate in drama because she was deaf. Change begins with strong people who don’t take no for an answer.  What a triumph to welcome her back into our classroom at Thom Collegiate where she showed video after video of performances.  Her most recent role was Horatio in the stage production of Hamlet in Toronto.

Change is also slow but now we have allies.  We have a grassroots movement becoming more aware of issues affecting deaf children.  We are changing the discourses, that is, we are talking about what cochlear implants can and cannot do.  We are starting to understand that technology may solve many problems but does not assure full language acquisition in all deaf children.  We are beginning to discover what it means to be language deprived.  Daily, I tell the students not to be family pets but to develop their own lives, gifts, abilities and talents. Meeting people like Dawn makes the task of not living one’s life according to the desires of hearing people a serious business, certainly not for the faint hearted.

Deaf Crows living in a Deaf Forest involves developing their lives on their own terms, rather than striving to be cheap imitations of hearing people.  This means learning things in their way, using their own eyes, learning in their own language, and achieving what lies within their reach.  With support from the deaf community, we can achieve much with and without sound. We do not need to be split into groups, those who talk, those who sign, and those who are traversing borders between signing and talking everyday.  Managing these complex border crossings require complex thinking and inner resources often far beyond the scope and imagination of most people.

That complexity is well captured in the Deaf Forest, which was displayed at the Dunlop Gallery from September 29 – October 31st, in Regina, Saskatchewan.  Thanks to the superb reporting by Ashleigh Martin, the Leader Post staff named her piece on the Deaf Forest as their favorite piece published in the Leader Post in 2017.

These Deaf Crows continue to astound me daily with what they can do. The Deaf Forest is twittering alive with their movements, activities, thoughts, hopes and dreams.   The growing grassroots movement in Regina and beyond is telling a different story.  Thank you, Dawn Birley for a wonderful day.  We will be flying your way soon.

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