Sign language students interpret Beyonce video

By Kary Feick

kfeick@my.madonna.edu

(Sign Language Studies Department [index left,] Broadcasting Department [index right]) (Two of Them) (Team) (Music video) (Create)

English grammar and punctuation mistake? Not at all.

The above symbolizes the correct grammatical use of American Sign Language, and also reflects the constant practice that results in the eventual second nature of Madonna sign language students who have mastered the language.

Last month, four sign language students in the SLS 4650 Contrast Txt Analysis:ASL class teamed up with the broadcasting department to film a music video in sign language. The group learned If I were a Boy, by popular artist Beyonce.

Professor Daniel McDougall required the class to translate a chosen song from English to American Sign Language (ASL.) “We had to make creative decisions on what we would visually represent, for example the hats we wore to symbolize we were boys,” said Loreen Forchione, a member of the group. Much like the other group members, Forchione practices sign language, but she also continues to study her second major choice, psychology. Forchione hopes the video will reach the deaf community, especially those who use sign language or work with the deaf.

“We said a prayer before we started because we do this for the glory of God. We believe in God first, then the deaf culture, and ourselves last,” expressed Latoria Joyce, one of the group members. “Latoria led us in a spoken prayer, and after Tiffany led us in the Lord ’s Prayer in sign language,” recalled Forchione. “We believe in putting God first and letting him guide us. This was not about ‘show boating’, it was about communicating with the deaf community while we are learning and growing because we want to be accepted,” said Lenore Johnson, another participant.  

Without the uplifting energy from both the production team and the sign language students, the video would not have come together. Stephanie Beatty, make-up artist, encouraged the students to practice and keep calm.

“The ladies are wonderful to work with,” said Alyse Paquin, intern project coordinator and director of the production team. “There was a tour of the Broadcast and Cinema Arts department and someone thought Tiffany was Beyonce. They said, ‘Is that really Beyonce!’” recalls Paquin. She also understands the need for the video to reach the deaf community. “I want them to see what we hear in a song,” said Paquin.   

The team made the project look easy, but they believe each person had to overcome certain challenges along the way. “Some of the challenges were directing people to do what I saw in my head, being responsible for a group of people, and the safety of the studio,” said Paquin.

“The toughest challenge was translating Beyonce’s lyrics from English to ASL,” agreed the group. “Translating is not word to word, it is from concept to concept with artistic room,” reflected Forchione. “It is challenging because you have to become the song and think and act like a boy. We had to show the emotion of how a man would treat a woman,” said Johnson.

In order to make their signs come to life with the theme Beyonce created, the students dressed as men for part of their video. “It was very challenging to act like a boy and ‘dude it up,’” laughed Latoria Joyce, one of the group members.

“It is only my second year, first semester and I am in a senior class. This music video is like a project that takes a whole semester to complete. It has been very challenging,” said Tiffany Doby, the group’s youngest member. “It is really hard to show the emotion of the words we are signing,” said Doby. “It is difficult because the signs have to match the emotions through facial expressions. You have to show it on your face if you are feeling sad, mad, or happy,” said Joyce. “The same sign can mean two different things based on facial expressions. Because of this, facial expressions are critical in ASL. We trained early on that facial expression goes with a sign,” stated Forchione.

Paquin and the sign language team feel that the video production went very well and blew their expectations right out of the water. “I enjoyed this experience. It took a lot of patience. I learned a lot about myself and the other SLS (sign language studies) students,” said Doby. “I learned more about the poetic body movement and artistic gestures it takes to create a music video,” stated Joyce. “I feel more comfortable expressing myself artistically because of this experience. I have always enjoyed watching people sign music, or interpret storytelling. I also enjoy acting, so this was an opportunity to play with two things I love,” expressed Forchione.

“I want prospective students to know they should spend lots of time practicing. Students in lower classes should keep practicing and continue to expose themselves to the deaf community, and other signers,” said Forchione. “This was fun, but it took skill because we must be able to allow people who don’t use the language to see the music and visualize the ideas,” added Johnson.   

“We would not be as skilled without the supportive students around us in sign language,” said Forchione. Johnson also felt the group has gotten closer and learned a lot about deaf culture from each other during the experience. 

Unlike the rest of the group, Johnson sparked a heated discussion when she told her peers that she was not concerned about her grade. “I hope that our video reaches the deaf culture because I want to be accepted into the deaf world and become part of their society,” said Johnson. “ASL is a language in its own right with its own humor and sentence structure. The deaf community is its own community, they have their own culture,” added Forchione. “Deaf people are part of the world, too. Sign language is a very in-depth language about meaning, and telling the meaning is a concept,” concluded Joyce.        

“I learned that the BCA students are very skilled and patient. They brought a lot to our music video that we did not think of. The props, lighting, and other help definitely added into our ideas. I feel we worked as a team and it was interesting watching them (the production team) work with the cameras,” recalled Joyce. “I was amazed at the phenomenal talent of the students. They knew so much about the camera angles, positions, and even the color and lighting that we needed for our video,” recalls Johnson. “I learned that the broadcasting department has an aggressive program. The studio is so professional. It was a new and fun experience working with cameras while interpreting,” said Forchione. 

“I learned that the SLS department is similar to the BCA department in that our fields can work well with any type of major and are both very visually oriented. If I had to pick a group of people to work with again it would definitely be this group,” reflected Paquin.

On Tuesday, April 20, McDougall invites anyone to the music video premiere. For more information contact dmcdougall@madonna.edu