Interview with Ksenia Balabina of Signs and Voices
We previously talked to writer CJ Hurtt
, and artist Jorge Correa Jr
about their series Signs and Voices
, a comic book meant to expose the world at large to the deaf community by showing us sign language integrated into a world with superheroes. Now, let's hear what Ksenia Balabina, the deaf translator and consultant of the series – who is also deaf herself – has to say about the series and her other outstanding contributions to the deaf community – plus more!
What made you interested in theatrical expression? How do you use it in your work?
I grew up in a creative environment. Both my parents are involved in music for theatre productions so I would join them for rehearsals and see main shows and help out. It was interesting to watch all the team working together and setting up stages and performing, developing not only my love for theatre but my own feeling and expression for it.
Where have you trained for your work? Can you describe some of your experiences?
I studied performing arts, and looked for courses. I visited the US and realized there were theatre courses there only for the Deaf in sign language, but I wanted something that gave me the opportunity to work with hearing people so I can be involved in the creative process differently. I continued my search and found a course in the UK, which catered for spoken language and sign language students. We all worked closely together to ensure what was spoken and signed matched the emotions being delivered. I gained a lot of experience whilst there, seeing things from a hearing perspective and the hearing students seeing things from a deaf perspective. I gained my initial understanding of how to write stories from my course, but I have to thank Zammurad Naqvi for her expertise in creative story writing, which just enhanced my learning further. She brought new techniques and methods to the group allowing us to analyze a story from a new angle altogether. She helped us build the story from scratch. She first started with running classes on story structure, film and discovering themes that were important to the deaf community. I learned what makes stories interesting for audiences, how we as creative people have to be honest with our emotions, showing villains, love, tragedy and other key elements that may help readers to understand our messages within story. But we also wanted to make sure that the deaf world was accurately shown so Zamurrad, Neil Magdani and myself very honestly exchanged our experiences and perceptions about our deaf and hearing communities. My experiences, and Neil's experiences were contrastingly different from each other, but both Deaf experiences. Zamurrad presented a new perspective, and in a very raw and honest way we began building Signs and Voices, it has been an amazing experience, as with creative work we learn more about each other and more of ourselves and our perceptions, helping us to make something very truthful and quite personal.
Could you describe your position on the creative team for Signs and Voices?
I am a deaf consultant and translator for the project. I bring my experiences of growing up deaf and sharing what I have learned along the way. I am responsible for making sure the comic is accessible to the readers. I have worked in many communities and previously as a tutor working with deaf students. I gained knowledge of reading styles and deaf people's language use. I am also responsible for ensuring the comic has appropriate signs and approve the work with the illustrator. Once I have selected these signs I film specific words and give descriptions in relation to the story line and create the video vocabulary and dictionary that comes with each episode.
How do you think Signs and Voices will help the deaf community?
It will show people that you can achieve what you want in life. The heroes are positive role models for the younger readers. Everyone knows of Superman and all the other heroes out there so there should be a deaf hero that we can relate too as well and so it was actually Saduf Naqvi who said we needed to create super powers in the comic as well as the main deaf characters and so we did. Ours are featured throughout the stories and use sign language as their mode of communication. They are all from varied backgrounds showing that not all deaf people are the same either. Our community is linked by language, and we don't see our differences but rather that we understand each other, its what brings us together across the world, and we know of each other when we meet. Its a very warming experience as we can relate to each other instantly.
It is also a visual learning tool. It will engage the reader, they will want to read more. This will build their confidence in reading and increase their vocabulary.
It has a mix of reality and fantasy that the reader can associate with.
If you don't mind getting a bit personal, what are some of the challenges you have had to overcome being deaf?
There are so many I could run through. The one that sticks in my mind the most still to this day is this...
I went to a mainstream school and was considered a bright student. I couldn't communicate with classmates but I studied lots and read more. This was an obvious advantage as I learned quickly.
During one of my exams I was given the question by my tutor and the interpreter signed it to me. At the end of the exam I handed my paper in and waited to get my results back. I got them back a few weeks later and was shocked by the low grade. I felt I had done well. I confronted the tutor and he told me he decided to give me a lower mark because the interpreter must have helped me.
I was outraged by the accusation and couldn't believe it. To prove him wrong I asked for a second test, without an interpreter to prove that I am just as capable. I don't feel it was fair to have to go through another test, after all the others in my class only did one. I took the second examination and still scored high. In my eyes it is only a language that separated me from the group.
You also work as a British Sign Language teacher- can you tell us what an average day in class is like?
My normal day consists of a group of hearing students eager to learn British Sign Language (BSL). It's quite fun when you see the shock on their faces that I will be signing to them, and there will be no interpreter present from the first day of class, everyone wonders how they will learn, how they will follow, the panic hits in and then... they begin to see language in its most natural form, and from this I begin to teach.
I accommodate their learning needs at the beginning but become tougher as I go along, and you find no one ever falls behind, actually people become more in tune with their inner more human senses to connect and communicate, the experience for many is exciting, new and overwhelming, and I love supporting that realization and growth with wider communities.
What projects other than Signs and Voices are you working on, whether it's comic book related or not?
Our next project is being set up now by Saduf Naqvi and Sadaqat Ali and we will start work shortly, publicity for that begins at the end of summer 2013. Again it is to do with deaf literature but no super powers this time. It's more real life... you'll have to wait and see :-) I'll be looking forward to it. Thank you for your time!
More information on www.signsandvoices.com