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The actor introduces the public to the world of the deaf through shows using American Sign Language

The actor introduces the public to the world of the deaf through shows using American Sign Language


ORLANDO, Florida. Lately, we have seen theater become more and more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community. TV shows are hiring more deaf actors and even have their own episodes from their perspective, theaters are offering special performances, and plays are including ghost American Sign Language interpreters.

For Keith Banks, it's something he's added to his own performances at the annual Orlando Fringes winter festival through his show Becoming Grandma Kat.

Keith Banks performs his show “Becoming Grandma Kat” at the Orlando Fringe festival. (Orlando Fringe FESTN4, Gontran Durocher)

Banks uses ASL throughout the performance, something he said he received positive feedback on.

Many of the audiences in attendance were hearing and it was their first experience of attending a deaf theater performance with ASL immersion and intercepted voice, which allows them to present a different world, a deaf world that has its values, said Banks.

The end goal was to help the general public understand the essence of using American Sign Language (ASL) in theater, as opportunities are limited for deaf and hard of hearing artists in Florida to present their works, he explained.

Banks grew up in Orlando, where he lost his hearing at a young age and began wearing hearing aids. When he needed to transition to high school, he enrolled at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. He learned more about deaf culture and American Sign Language, and acquired many resources that led him to become interested in performing.

His show Becoming a Grandma Kat He is a social media influencer who unknowingly was involved in a pyramid scheme. He has decided to join the witness protection program, but federal agents are trying to reveal his true identity. He begins to disguise himself as an elderly, deaf woman named Grandma Kat who runs a small restaurant. As he finds himself trapped in his new personality, he faces challenges that test his ability to keep his identity hidden.

Keith Banks performing “Becoming Grandma Kat” at the Orlando Fringe Festival in 2022. (Orlando Fringe 2022, Brian Harris)

Banks said his inspiration for the show came from an annual black history program at his school, where he learned about hidden figures in black history.

Since it was my senior year in high school, I wanted to do something that people would remember me by once I graduated, Banks said.

He loves Tyler Perry's character Madea and decided to do a sketch in tribute to her. He said many students and staff loved his performance.

People called me Mama Banks, and I took that idea and wanted to create some sort of artistry for this character. Made appearances in college, eventually wrote a game structure, changed the character's name to Grandma Kat from my own grandmother's name and her history/traits character, Banks said.

Keith Banks stars in his show “Becoming Grandma Kat.” (Orlando Fringe)

Now that Banks is back living and working in Orlando, he said he wants to see more change in the local theater community.

I would like to see more accessibility, inclusiveness, and representation of deaf people within our local community here in Orlando and around the world. Deaf people not only want theater to be accessible, but also for their stories to be seen and performed in the same shared theater space as hearing artists and performers, Banks said.

He said he would like to see deaf artists, designers and playwrights on the theater's staff and boards, which could help ensure that representation.

This is part of the reason why he wants to create his own theater company for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Here in Florida, there are limited opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing artists to present their artistic works, whether on stage, off stage or in mainstream media, compared to other states in the United States, Banks said .

We have many talented deaf people, but there is no mainstream theater or deaf theater venue to showcase their creative works.

Keith Banks at the Orlando Fringe's “FESTN4” in January. (Orlando Fringe FESTN4, Gontran Durocher)

Banks is still in the early stages of her goal. Currently, he's looking for like-minded theater makers to help him plan funding, so he can turn what he calls the Florida Deaf Theater Project into a purpose-driven deaf theater organization. non-profit.

Regarding other artists who are deaf or hard of hearing, Banks had this message:

Don't let your hearing loss get in the way of your passion for performing, there are plenty of accessibility resources and tools available. Go looking for opportunities to showcase your talent.

Copyright 2024 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.




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