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Blog Articles in Category: General Interest

Interview with Switched at Birth Creator Lizzy Weiss

Interview with Switched at Birth Creator Lizzy Weiss

General Interest   |  Friday, October 16, 2015

By Jillian Winn

We are so excited to interview Lizzy Weiss, the creator of Switched at Birth!

About Switched at Birth

The TV show Switched at Birth is the first mainstream television series to have multiple deaf and hard-of-hearing actors, as well as scenes shot entirely in American Sign Language (ASL). The ninth episode of the second season entitled "Uprising" made television history by becoming the first episode of a national mainstream television series to be told almost entirely in American Sign Language.

Switched at Birth tells the story of two teenage girls who discover they were accidentally switched as newborns in the hospital. Bay Kennish grew up in a wealthy family with two parents and a brother. Meanwhile, Daphne Vasquez, who contracted meningitis and became deaf at an early age, grew up with a single mother in a working-class neighborhood. Things come to a dramatic head when the families discover that the girls were switched at birth.

Interview with Lizzy Weiss, the Creator of Switched at Birth

Lizzy WeissSigning Savvy users love Switched at Birth and have submitted several questions to ask Lizzy Weiss, the creator of Switched at Birth. A big thank you to Lizzy for answering the fan questions and thank you to everyone that submitted questions - Jackie B., Courtney B., Denise B., Katie C., Tracy Anne H., Ray K., Chloe L., Sarah P., Julie S., and Lili Lan V.

What was your motivation for creating the show?

I’m a writer so I’m always looking for great stories and when I heard about two middle-aged women who discovered that they had been switched at birth, I knew that making them teenagers would make a really interesting examination of nature vs. nurture. The decision to make one of the girls deaf came later, so it wasn’t the primary inspiration for the show; it was more of an extra complication to the main hook.

Did you have ties to the Deaf community prior to creating the show?

I took a class in college called Theater of the Deaf in which we had to perform monologues, songs, and poems in sign language. When I decided to make one of the girls different in some way to create more conflict with her birth family, I instantly knew that I wanted her to be deaf. (Take unusual classes in college even if they don’t fulfill requirements! They’ll pay off in ways you can’t anticipate later!)

What sort of background research did you do in creating the show?

I saw documentaries on deaf history and the cochlear implant debate; I read memoirs and lurked on deaf blogs and forums; and most importantly, I visited Marlton School for the Deaf in Los Angeles and interviewed multiple classes of students about their lives.

How was Katie Leclerc selected for the role of Daphne? How did she feel about acting with a deaf accent and is it difficult for her?

We had an open call for the part of Daphne so that we could be more inclusive and provide an opportunity to someone who wasn’t in the system (i.e. not just people with agents). People drove for hours to audition and spoke to me about the script and how much it meant to them to have a deaf protagonist; it was very moving. Katie nailed the audition in every way: in her acting, being fluent in ASL, plus the extra little magic of having the same coloring as Lea Thompson, who we knew we wanted to cast as the part of her biological mother.

But Katie is hard of hearing (from Meniere’s Disease) and I knew that I wanted Daphne to be more deaf than Katie in order to provide more anxiety and conflict with her bio family. We asked her if she would be comfortable coming back and auditioning again with a deaf accent and she said she felt very comfortable since she has been around deaf people her whole life. She worked with her sister (who is deaf) to map out which syllables would be difficult for her; I think by now, 93 episodes in, it’s pretty much second nature.

In the show, Regina stopped signing to Daphne because of an injury. Was there a behind-the-scenes reason she stopped?

Sadly, there was. It was a true heartbreak for all of us that Constance had to stop signing. All of the other actors got to learn gradually because their characters learned slowly over time. But Regina was supposed to be fluent when we met her, so she had to do a crash course in ASL. Everyone’s hands are different and for some reason, the repetitive motion of so much practicing gave her carpal tunnel syndrome (especially after an eight-hour day of shooting a key scene in episode 8, ‘Pandora’s Box,’ in Season 1 in which Regina reveals a huge secret). In any case, her doctors required her to stop signing altogether. Luckily, at the same time, so many of the other characters started signing that it didn’t affect the texture of the show, and the amount of ASL that I wanted.

How long did it take the hearing actors to learn sign language?

We have an ASL master (Jack Jason, who is also Marlee Matlin’s long-time interpreter) who teaches all of the actors their signs for their lines weekly. He is available for tutoring; he makes videos for them; and he is on set for every sign language scene to correct or guide them. Sometimes I consult with him as well when new characters are learning ASL and we talk about what level we want them to be at, or what sign to use in a certain scene, or when they should fingerspell, things like that.

Does anyone use Signing Savvy associated with the show?

I don’t think so but I tell everyone about it! I love the sign of the day. Every morning, my kids (ages 5 and 7) and I check it at breakfast and we learn it together! And I teach my daughter’s kindergarten class a new song every week. This week we are going to do animals and if a kid asks me an animal I don’t know, I’ll just look it up in the dictionary!

What's your favorite sign?

Penguin! Pirate. Love. Octopus. Submarine. Turtle. Rainbow. Friend. Always and forever. So many!

Switched at Birth is actually what inspired me to learn ASL! Is there an interpreter on set at all times for crew members who may not know ASL but need to interact with the Deaf actors? 

Every deaf actor has their own interpreter at all times on set, so when the director needs to block a scene or the assistant director needs them in make-up or I need to give a note, we use the interpreters. I’m trying to use my sign language these days but sometimes we have to be fast so I use a mixture of my signs and the interpreter.

Has the show gotten a lot of positive feedback about its use with Deaf actors and ASL?

Yes! It has been delightful hearing how many people say they were inspired to learn sign language - or even become interpreters - from the show. I love when people tweet that they felt more comfortable talking to a deaf patient or a deaf customer because of the show, that is fantastic.

I want Switched at Birth to last forever! Do you think you will continue to work with Deaf story lines after Switched at Birth concludes?

Absolutely. Sign language is totally part of my life now, both professionally and personally. I’m pushing my family to learn it so we can have a secret (kind of) language!

How to Watch

New episodes of Switched at Birth are on Mondays at 8/7 central on ABC Family. Find out more about Switched at Birth or watch episodes online at ABC Family. Older episodes are also available on Netflix.

Again, a big thank you to Lizzy for answering the questions from Signing Savvy fans!

 

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Great Sign Language Music Video Performance of Taylor Swift's Shake It Off

Great Sign Language Music Video Performance of Taylor Swift's Shake It Off

General Interest   |  Monday, May 11, 2015

By Jillian Winn

Check out this great sign language music video performance of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. The video was a collaboration between the Digital Media, Audio and Cinema Program and the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College (LCC). The production was student driven and took around four class periods to complete.

The performer, Sam, just finished LCC’s Sign Language Interpreter Program this week and plans to take her state certification test soon to become a certified interpreter in Michigan.

Sam originally performed this song at LCC's SYNC event, which is a performance where the cast (LCC Sign Language students) work with the faculty to interpret popular songs using sign language. Doretta Fowler, the Director of SYNC, explained the show is called SYNC because “We synchronize two cultures, two languages, and we do it simultaneously.” After she performed Shake It Up live at SYNC, Sam was selected to turn her performance into a music video. 

Sam had a lot of fun creating the music video. She said, “I was so surprised when I walked into the studio and saw all the cameras and the lights. I felt like I was a movie star!”

And just like Sam's 4-year-old niece (who chose the song), we think you will enjoy this great music video.

SHAKE IT OFF from theDMACprogram on Vimeo.

 

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Voice Contestant Signs the Team She Wants to Be on

General Interest   |  Tuesday, February 24, 2015

By Jillian Winn

When it was time for contestant Treeva Gibson to choose which coach’s team she wanted to be on, she responded, “I’m going to sign this, so my parents can see who I pick.”  She goes on to sign and voice, “I PICK” and fingerspell “C-H-R-I-S-T-I-N-A.”

The 16-year-old from Frederick, Maryland started singing when she was 11.  Both of her parents are deaf and Treeva learned to sign before she could speak or sing.  As a teenager, Teeva discovered she has a mild hearing loss.  She can not hear mid-tones, which makes it difficult for her to hear an artist singing on a track, yet she can hear the instrumental part.

Watch Treeva Gibson sing Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” in her blind audition in the video below.  She’s officially made it onto Team Christina and into the next round, so watch for her on The Voice once the battle rounds start.

NOTE: This video is provided by NBC and, unfortunately, does not include captions.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

General Interest   |  Wednesday, November 26, 2014

By Jillian Winn

We hope that you have a very happy Thanksgiving! 

Did you notice the theme of our Signs of the Day for the past week?  Leading up to Thanksgiving, all of our Signs of the Day have been Thanksgiving related: 

We also have a Thanksgiving Coloring Page from our partners at WonderGrove Learn Animated Lessons with Sign Language that you can print out and color.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Coloring Page

 

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New movie to watch for: NO ORDINARY HERO: THE SUPERDEAFY MOVIE

General Interest   |  Friday, September 26, 2014

By Jillian Winn

NO ORDINARY HERO: THE SUPERDEAFY MOVIE is a family drama about a deaf actor who plays a superhero on a TV show who must look beyond the cape to inspire a deaf boy to believe in himself.

Based on the internationally known SuperDeafy character, NO ORDINARY HERO, featuring Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, is the evolution story in this fictitious family drama. John Maucere stars as Tony Kane who plays a superhero on TV, but in real life he’s just another guy who happens to be deaf. Eight-year-old Jacob Lang, also deaf, is having a hard time. When Tony and Jacob’s paths cross, they inspire belief in each other and in themselves. The film is completely open captioned making it fully accessible to deaf, hard of hearing and “signing impaired” audiences.

Directed by Troy Kotsur, who is deaf, and executive produced by Liz Tannebaum, Paul Maucere and John Maucere, who are all deaf and produced by Hilari Scarl and Doug Matejka, the film is now in theaters nationwide.

The film enjoyed a sold-out world premiere at the prestigious Heartland Film Festival and is thrilled to be screening at the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival and screening as the opening night film for the Rome International Film Festival where it will receive the Shepherd Award for innovative filmmaking.

NO ORDINARY HERO is screening nationwide at movie theaters and screenings through Tugg. Tickets and bookings are available online at http://www.tugg.com/titles/superdeafy and on the movie website: http://www.noordinaryheromovie.com/

 

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