Meet the R&D: Don Nguyen and his project SOUND

As part of the Civilians R&D Group, we’re asked to periodically blog about the plays we’re working on.  Here’s my first blog on SOUND, my Deaf play:

Click here for the original Civilians blog post

Meet the R&D: Don Nguyen and his project SOUND

Ever been to a party where it’s really loud and you’re trying to carry on a conversation with someone?  And you can barely hear them, so you just nod, because agreeing with whatever they’re saying is the path of least resistance?  Nevermind that you just agreed to donating one of your kidneys, because in the scheme of things, isn’t it better to give up a kidney then look stupid at a party?  Exactly.

Yes, I have this irrational fear of losing my hearing.  It all stems from being at those aforementioned parties.  Of course, it’s probably because the music is too loud and I’ve imbibed in too much alcohol.  It doesn’t matter.  I said my fear was irrational.

And what do you do with irrational fears? You take a vacation of course. So I took the fastest Fast Ferry to the preferred vacation spot for democratic presidents and Kennedys. Martha’s Vineyard. Okay it wasn’t really a vacation. It was a writers retreat hosted by the Vineyard Arts Project. But let’s face it, when you’re writing dialogue in one hand and eating a lobster roll in the other, you’re quickly burgeoning into vacation territory.

So while in this retreat/vacation, I researched the island and discovered two surprising things. First, much to my chagrin, there is no vineyard on Martha’s Vineyard. My dreams of sampling full bodied island vino all week long quickly went down the proverbial drain. The second thing I learned was that in the mid 19th century, Martha’s Vineyard had the highest percentage of deaf population in the country. As I read further, I discovered that the islanders on the Vineyard developed their own sign language and most hearing islanders learned it in order to communicate with their deaf neighbors.

An interesting side note is that when there is no useful language spoken between two parties, they will often resort to rudimentary signing in order to communicate. Keep this in mind next time you watch The Jersey Shore.

Speaking of shore, back on Terra Insula, in the 1880s, Alexander Graham Bell visited the island in order to study the deaf population there. As It turns out, both his wife and mother were deaf. Also this happened: he invented the telephone. Which is as ironic as an Alanis Morrisette song (that never gets old).

I also knew I wanted to write about the deaf culture of today and that’s when I stumbled upon the great debate and controversy of the cochlear implant, an internal hearing aid device that allows a deaf candidate to actually hear sound.

As I did more research on both Mister Bell and cochlear implants, the two ideas started to dovetail towards a common theme: Sound. The quest for sound and the absence of sound. So that’s what I’m calling my play. SOUND. Yeah, it’s not a terribly original title, but it’s a sound one (rimshot please).

Now, because the core of the Civilians work requires investigation and research, I’ve decided to start mine by learning sign language, which is actually something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve enrolled in a sign language class at the Sign Language Center at 39 E 30th st NYC.

In future updates, I’ll share my first foray into sign language class with you, as well as developments with the play. In the meantime, I’ve got to go see someone about my kidney.