Deaf Theatre and Sign Names

Wednesday morning I woke up not feeling so well and felt a bit icky and low all day. We had LSF class as usual, followed by lunch at the University.  And then after lunch we went to L’International Visual Theatre (IVT).


IVT is a joint Deaf/non-Deaf theatre that has been around since the 1970’s. It is credited as being the beginning of the resurgence of sign language in France. Prior to, signing was considered taboo and shameful. Unfortunately, that’s a common theme across cultures thanks to the oralist movement gaining control of Deaf education as a result of the 1880 Milan conference.


First, we had about an hour history lesson on the IVT and the building it was housed in and then we watched one of their performances. It was performed in a combination of LSF and spoken French. I found the storyline a bit hard to follow, owing I’m sure to not being fluent in either of the languages used, but visually it was stunning. The timing and choreography of the actors was beautiful.

Afterwards, we attended our own personal Deaf theatre class. The instructor was really, really intense. He didn’t hesitate to call people out for shyness or other hindering behaviors. Whenever someone would direct a question to another group member or the group lead, he jumped right in and scolded them; demanding that the interaction be with him. He did all of this deliberately because everything we learned in the class revolved around understanding and respecting Deaf culture. It was certainly a learning experience and I had a lot of fun. We did a lot of improv which required putting yourself out there and I was incredibly grateful that I had taken a semester of theatre last year (which I did because I knew theatre would help me be a better interpreter.) I’m also happy that I’ve been in such a extroverted mood since I got here!

The coolest thing of the entire day, however, is that the Deaf theatre instructor, Bashir, (whom I regrettably do not have a picture of) gave me a sign name.

I cannot tell you how incredibly neat, cool, unique, special it is to have come all the way to France and finally have a sign name that reflects ME.

Receiving a sign name is an important ‘rite of passage’ and I finally feel like I have an identity in relation to the Deaf community. I’ve been given two other sign names previously and after trying them out a couple times, I rejected them (which is allowed). The first one, a J at the chest mimicking the sign for HAPPY was given to me because my husband was given the same sign name with the S handshape and since “J is hard” they just decided to copy his sign name with the J. So basically, my sign name translated to “Shane’s wife”.

No thank you. Not that I don’t love being Shane’s wife, but that is not my sole identity, and it’s certainly not who I am in relation to the Deaf community. I quit using that one the minute I found out not accepting a sign name was allowed.

The second sign name was given to me by a Deaf man at a social, local to where I live. I met him for the first and only time the night he gave me my sign name. He asked what I loved to do and I told him I basically don’t do anything but read. I read for school, I read for fun and I don’t do anything else as consistently (other than ASL). So he gave me the sign name with the J mimicking the sign for read.

At first I liked and was excited about the sign name but after sharing it a few times, it just didn’t feel right. I love to read, yes, but it’s not ‘who I am’.

So now,  having traveled all the way to France and visiting the famous (in the Deaf world) IVT, I have been given a sign name by a Deaf IVT instructor.

In Paris!

My new sign name is the U handshape mimicking me tucking my hair behind my right ear. I accepted the sign name immediately because….well Paris, IVT, etc., etc. but at first I didn’t know what to think of it.

But then I realized I was thinking about it every time I tucked my hair behind my ears, which surprisingly, is A LOT. And the sign name just felt right. It felt like ME. So not only am I coming back from France with amazing new experiences, massively improved signing skills, and a new appreciation of culture but I’m also coming back with a spanking new sign name and a fantastic story to go with it.

What a journey this has been!20170531_185426

After we finished at IVT a small group of us went out to dinner. I tried a few new things and they weren’t bad but they didn’t even come close to competing with the meal I’d had the night before. Actually, every meal I’ve had since Tuesday has fallen short in comparison. And worse, this one was actually more expensive!

This photo is some kind of cheese pie I had as an appetizer that I can’t remember the name of.

Once finished with dinner, I came back to the hotel and threw a load of laundry in the hotel laundry machines. While it was washing, another group member and I walked to the local store and I picked up some eggs to boil for breakfast. For the rest of the evening, I did a bunch of typical domestic activities; boiled eggs, washed laundry, and cleaned up and organized my room. It actually felt nice to do a few normal things and by the end of the night I was feeling much better.

I managed to get to bed by 11 pm which is becoming the new normal. I think my body will have completely adjusted to the time zone and sunset/sunrise here just in time for me to go home!

One final, unrelated thought: I’m already mentally planning my return to Paris with Shane. I cannot wait to bring him here and share this with him.


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