Alexa Wachtel helps theater department, others through sign language

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Emma Newman staff writer 

From helping her deaf cousin learn different signs to teaching theater students, freshman Alexa Wachtel has helped many students since she began to master sign language.

 Although she started using sign language when she was a baby, she became invested in the language three years ago–so much so that she now aspires to be a professional sign language interpreter. Once at Beverly, she began using sign language to translate the songs that are performed at the theater plays. She has done this to the past theater productions of “War At Home” and “Imaginary Invalid,” and she is set to use sign language during the spring musical “Chicago” as well. 

Wachtel became serious about the language after reading a book that piqued her interest, which centered around a person who couldn’t talk to others due to a disability. 

 “They were able to communicate through a talking board, and I was like ‘Wow, if they can communicate through that, I want to communicate [in] some way [that] not a lot of people know how [to],’ so I decided to take up sign language,” Wachtel said. 

After she realized her desire to learn sign language, she learned new signs both through a deaf tutor. 

Since then, Wachtel joined the theater department by enrolling in the Intro to Theater class. After that, she reached out to theater director Karen Chandler to use sign language during theater performances to share sign language with others. 

“[Wachtel] is the one who said, ‘Hey, I’m doing this and I really like to explore doing it,’” Chandler said. 

Chandler then organized for Wachtel’s role in the theater department, as she wanted to give her the opportunity to practice sign language in the theater world. 

“Any student who is interested in a career opportunity, we absolutely want to give them the time on stage, just as we would an actor, a dancer or anything else,” Chandler said. 

In “Imaginary Invalid,” specifically, Wachtel taught junior Jasmine Singer, who played the role of Toinette, and sophomore Miles Platt lines in sign language for their roles. 

Platt, who played the role of Guy, learned sign language through both a session with Wachtel and videos she sent him. 

“My character is required to speak sign language because he pretends to be a deaf person,” Platt said. “I had to learn quite a bit of sign language to be able to do this.” 

Although Platt is not interested in signing “seriously” in the future, he does value his unique role and the help that Wachtel provided.  

“I think that it’s been a really cool experience to learn how to do everything, and it’s definitely something that could benefit me in the future,” Platt said.

Aside from plays like “Imaginary Invalid,”  Chandler is looking to give the deaf and special needs individuals the opportunity to have a specific modified showing of the spring musical in the years to come. 

“We’d like to start adding a matinee performance where it has less light and sound so not only could we maybe have that sign language but we could also serve our autistic community or people with special needs that might not be able to sit through a two-and-a-half hour show,” Chandler said. 

Like Chandler, Wachtel is looking forward to helping people with hearing impairments in the future. However, even with her active role in the deaf community,  sign language is “kind of hard” for Wachtel.

“In ASL… it’s kind of hard to pick up the grammar,” Wachtel said. “People do signs differently, with two hands or one, so it’s hard to understand [if] they made [a] sign when they do it a different way.” 

Despite the difficulties of learning the language, she continues to learn more signs “every day.”

Wachtel continues to pursue the language partially because it makes her stand out from others, but she enjoys helping others with the language, whether it is a person in a coffee shop or a young child. 

“I taught little kids recently and they went up to their parents and they were so happy that I taught them sign language,” Wachtel said. “I just like inspiring people when I’m learning as well, so we can all learn together. I just love helping people, and when I see someone struggling, I can just go in and help them.” 

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