If you did not go see ‘Pop, Roar and Whir: An Evening of Music and American Sign Language” on Friday night in the Drama House, then ‘train go sorry,” or as translated from American Sign Language to English, you missed the boat my friend.

For someone with minimal exposure to ASL, even while living in Rochester, which has one of the largest deaf populations per capita, seeing the Sign Language Associated Performers (S.L.A.P.) was extremely enlightening.

Having heard that the show featured students interpreting songs into sign language, I developed an abstract picture in my mind of this being more of a tutorial, with an ASL interpreter mindlessly signing away as I got to listen to some good a cappella music. This probably stemmed from the occasional talk or lecture I attended where I attempted to focus on the main speaker or celebrity that I was interested in, and not get distracted by the interpreter vigorously gesticulating downstage left.

These hazy memories were quickly obliterated when the S.L.A.P performance began.
Senior Gabriel Fanelli, who had a simple role as a narrator and a source of information on ASL throughout the show, compelled me to pay attention with his expressive face and fluid hand movements.

As stated in the program, S.L.A.P. is a new performance group that was co-founded in October by sophomore Mel Belzano and freshman Sura Lutvak. Although they claim to be ‘not entirely certainly sure” what they are going for with S.L.A.P., it definitely sounds like everything has been figured out.

‘The Sign Language Associated Performers is a performance group that focuses on the meshing of American Sign Language and traditional forms of performance,” Belzano said. ‘This first performance of ours was focused on educating the hearing community in Rochester about ASL through a medium that every hearing person loves: music.”

The evening began with Lutvak signing to a recording of ‘I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. The whimsical and cheery emotions displayed through her facial expressions while the song was playing conveyed the tone of the song, which is especially important if you’re someone who wants to enjoy the music, but can’t actually hear it. ‘[There are many deaf people who absolutely love music; the fact that they can’t hear it with their ears does not deter them at all,” Belzano explained. They can feel the rhythm of the music in their bodies, if the volume is turned up loud enough.”

In fact, the dramatic and expressive way in which all the signers translated the songs made me realize how much of an art form ASL truly is. Not only are the hands an instrumental part of signing, but the entire body, especially the face, is active and involved.

In translating a song, even more of the body is engaged since the signer is expected to keep the tempo of the song on his or her body, whether through swinging the shoulders or tapping the foot.

While the show was certainly aesthetically pleasing and entertaining on various levels, it was also immensely informative. However, it was not initially organized in this manner.

‘Even after we found out After Hours and Vocal Point wanted to work with us, the show still had no structure,” Belzano said. ‘I have to say, it was a pretty scary moment when we sat down and went, “Oh no … we have all of this music and we still have no show!’ We had a lot of different ideas for the shows arc, but it was not until mid-January, I think, that we decided to write a show with a focus on ASL education rather than pure entertainment.”

The culmination of S.L.A.P.’s efforts took months of preparation and hard work on the parts of the co-founders. Starting in October, Belzano and Lutvak spent hours each Thursday discussing the direction of their group. After first translating any music they wanted into ASL, the two decided to begin translating the songs of Rochester’s a cappella groups as well.

Belzano and Lutvak’s hard work, and that of all the signers that evening (senior Gabriel Fanelli, sophomore Justin Gumina, freshman Ena Johnson and senior Genevieve Mack), most certainly paid off with this incredible performance.

‘After the success of our performance tonight, I’m pretty positive we want to keep our shows as informative and educational as possible, while still being as entertaining as we can,” Belzano said. ‘Sura and I already started bouncing around ideas for a show for next spring, so we’ll see what happens.”

Although no applause, screams or whistles were heard from the crowd that night, the satisfaction of the audience was apparent by delighted looks of awe and the ‘jazz hands,” ASL’s form of applause, shimmering throughout the room.

Dickerson is a member of the class of 2012.

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