Thursday, December 17, 2009

Deaf Jam: Performers knock down barriers

By Michèle De Meglio

Brooklyn’s deaf community has united thanks to a series of open mic nights.

It all began when Mandie Muscato, a sign language interpreter and Bensonhurst resident, performed at a Monday evening open mic event at Circles Cantina, 8001 Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge.

“My friends who are deaf would come see me,” she explained. “I would end up interpreting these events and the music for my deaf friends.”

One of those friends, Steve Martinez, who is deaf, decided he wanted to perform. In fact, he believed many deaf individuals would love the opportunity to play an instrument, sing, tell jokes or share stories. He calls the experience “empowering” for deaf performers.

“I use sign language and have my voice interpreter,” said Martinez, who performs a stand-up routine. “It’s fun.”

The first Deaf Appreciation Night was such a hit that Circles Cantina owner Pierre Salameh has hosted numerous events since, and each one has had a bigger audience than the last.

“We had 65 people show up at our first Deaf Appreciate open mic,” Salameh said. “We did another one where we had 70 people show up. We did another one and it was standing room only.”“

We’ve done five events. We’re doing another one in December,” he added.

The performances cater to both deaf and hearing individuals, as well as students studying sign language.

“In the case of a deaf comedian, he’s got a signer who is speaking. In the case of a singer, he has someone signing for the deaf community,” Salameh said. “We’ve had deaf comics and speaking comics. And a lot of the singers are lyrically orientated — they don’t care what they sound like, they just want the lyrics heard.”

“Deaf people appreciate music on different levels,” Muscato explained. “They still hear sounds and rhythms. They enjoy music and artistic expression in different ways.”

Muscato plans to continue the open mic events at Circles Cantina while making them bigger and better.

“There’s not a lot of deaf events in Bay Ridge, if any, so this brings a lot of culture to the community,” Muscato said. “People come from all over to come to this event.”

The next Deaf Appreciation open mic night has yet to be scheduled, as Circles Cantina is currently being renovated and will soon open with a new name. To remain updated or to inquire about performing, e-mail

Photo: Steve Martinez plays guitar, while Mandie Muscato does sign language to the music. Photo by Bob Hacken


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