Actors, singers and dancers are being auditioned for 200 openings to support a new Lehighton-based Sign Language TV network scheduled for a February 2014 kickoff.
The as yet unnamed channel will provide 24-hour broadcasting on a national basis on both cable television and Internet streaming with sign language support for the deaf on all programming- news, weather, drama, variety and talk shows.
Those interested in auditioning should contact Theressa DuBois of the Deaf Welcome Foundation in Lehighton at firstname.lastname@example.org. DuBois currently produces and hosts Deaf Welcome Sign Language TV from the foundation's studios at 206 N. Sgt. Stanley Hoffman Blvd in Lehighton, see: www.deafwelcome.org.
"The Deaf Welcome Foundation will be 10 years old in April 2014 and has been producing Sign Language Television for eight years," DuBois said. "Back in 2004, I had a vision to make deaf welcome. After lots of work interpreting for the deaf in my church, we got it."
"But soon we realized that all members of most families don't all know American Sign Language. So I realized that we needed something extra to make the deaf welcome – the TV show.
"Hearing people were learning to sign, signing people were improving, people were trying to voice and speak, the shyness of hearing people was lessening. It was an amazing experience."
She set up the Deaf Welcome Foundation to give the deaf equal access to the hearing mainstream in everything. "That's really the concept," said DuBois who has been involved with the deaf community for over 25 years as a vocational counselor, job coach, interpreter and court interpreter.
The former dancer whose cable talk show is a sign language parallel of an Oprah or Ellen series, but has its own effervescent host, Theressa. She loves to build upon her background in dance-ballet, tap and African, to add sign language, and create a lyrical sign dance-a dance form that tells a story or sings the poetic verse in movement of the dancers.
"Sign dance is an amazing form of expression," DuBois said. "When I showed Earth Wind and Fire a sign dance to accompany their song, I Like The Way You Move, they asked for me to go with them on the road. But before that could be arranged, she injured herself in a fall and during the recovery, put on a lot of weight – not very dancer-friendly.
"Sign dance is a wonderful way to teach people sign language," she explained. "On our TV show, my talent manager, actress Sheenah Niobe, plays a young woman who never had an interest in sign language until she met a tall dark and handsome deaf man, and all of a sudden she is interested in learning sign language."
DuBois looks forward to assembling a cast of 200 performers for the new network. She points out the Deaf Welcome Foundation is a 501-(c)3 charity and funding is currently limited. Still, she plans to compensate performers according to their level of talent, experience and contributions with the top performers being paid while the less experience are offered an internship to have an opportunity to learn the craft.
"We are going to train everyone that we select for Sign Language TV for commercials and music videos. We need to have our own resources of talent. We can't rely on the average casting director. We want to make sure that we have the skills that we need, the signing skills and the acting, singing or dancing, and then we will make sure that the performers are camera ready.
"Deaf Welcome workshops will teach non-signers ASL, provide voice coaching for singers and interpreters, acting lessons for up and coming talent, as well as personal development for all.
"We will be doing commercials. Some companies already contacted us that want to advertise on our national channel when we go live in February. They want sign language commercials that will appeal to a signing audience. Performers don't have to be deaf. Some will need to be bilingual, signing and speaking. Some may be in the background signing while others are speaking."
"I am so excited," DuBois said. "It's really a dream come true. Walt Disney said, 'It's kind of fun to do the impossible.' The deaf world and the hearing world are finally coming together, and the audience will have a front row seat."