Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 18: Dean Cannavino

Day 18 honors Dean (Dino) Patrick Cannavino.  He is the actor in the color photo above, posing in his costume from the play, "The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy".  

I was a BABY interpreter when my friend Hank Stack contacted me about a job in spring of 1990.  Hank was the president of Northwest Theatre of the Deaf at the time and they were just embarking on a production of "The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy", a play about a Deaf baseball player who was instrumental in developing the hand signals used in baseball to this day.

I met Dean via NWTD and we became fast friends.  When he was first here, he was only here for a short time - on loan from Chicago.  In short order, Dean was in love with the community here, in love with Portland and wildly popular in the theatre community.  On closing night of the show, Dean and his roommates had a big party at their house in NW Portland.  I wasn't an actor, so I didn't really fit into the whole group, but I was so enamored of them and Dean...I had a huge admiration-crush on him (different than lust-crush).  As the party wound down, I couldn't bring myself to leave - I felt like I would never see him or any of them again.  I helped clean up and eventually, it was just Dean and I in the kitchen, washing the dishes together.  When we were done, we dried our hands on some towels, looked at each other and burst into tears.  I was so relieved that he was feeling some of what I was feeling.

The night before he left Portland that first time, we had a big party and drank WAY too much (I have photos...).  We ended up downtown in front of CC Slaughters after they were closed down.  We wandered around, trying to burn off the alcohol and then we took him to the airport where we took one of my favorite photos ever - back in the days when you could walk a person to their gate.  I later drove to San Francisco (a story for another day) to see him perform in the show in Los Altos.  I must say that our production was better (wink).

So, in one sense, I thank Dean (I never called him Dino - I didn't know he went by that until I had known him for a LONG time) for friendship.  We had a very close bond that was very special to me. I loved him dearly - he was so charismatic and full of life.  How is it that those people always die before their time?  I sometimes just wonder if they burn so brightly because they only have a short fuse and they need to get it all done in a short period of time...

But what I am really grateful for is even bigger than friendship.  When I met Dean, I was a not-very-skilled, not-very-goal-oriented sign language interpreter in K-12 settings.  I had only been interpreting for 6 months and I could feel my adult language atrophy with each day that passed.  Meeting him, hanging out with him, working with him, watching him work and meeting his friends (many of whom I had known before but he added dimension because he trusted me) gave me a home in the community.  I never felt comfortable just showing up at Deaf community events when some of them were not my bag.  Dean hung out with people I would have gravitated to under any circumstances (and in fact, already had gravitated to).  He and many others I will be writing about in the days to come opened a door and threw out a welcome mat for me that made all the difference in the world.  I had a purpose - I had drive.  My signing improved and grew - my students said to me one day, about a month after starting my journey with Dean, "What have you been doing?  Your signing is different..."  That was all she wrote!

Dean was one of the people who, I believe, led to my career in theatrical interpreting.  I don't believe I could have accomplished any of the things I have in my career without Dean and Hank and Tim and Bates.  Without them, without the work I have done all these years, I would be less of a person - I would just be another interpreter out there - and not nearly as fulfilled as a human being.  They gave me art in a way I had NEVER dreamed - a way to stay connected to theatre when I didn't know how to do it myself.  What an amazing gift I have been given!  I don't always recognize it, but in this month of Thank-fullness, I am realizing how blessed I really am.

Dean died of complications from AIDS in 1995.  His death was devestating to me and to everyone in our community who knew and loved him.  I miss him still.  His quilt panel from The Names Project is below:

P.S. As I read this, I realized it sounds like I value the career things more than the friendship...that's not what I meant. More than anything, I wanted to recognize the gift of confidence that I got from my good friend. His friendship, mentorship, and guidance all led me to greater confidence in myself and my work. Does that make sense? If we had just worked together and nothing more, the impact would have been so different. Anyway, I just wanted to clarify.

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