The title "Stop Sign Language" sounds like a before-and-after puzzle from "Wheel of Fortune." But to Available Light Theatre's Eleni Papaleonardos, who lives with dyslexia, it pulses with meaning.
The title “Stop Sign Language” sounds like a before-and-after puzzle from “Wheel of Fortune.” But to Available Light Theatre’s Eleni Papaleonardos, who lives with dyslexia, it pulses with meaning.
Known around town as a director (Available Light’s “Pride and Prejudice”) and actor (CATCO’s “The Clean House”), Papaleonardos wrote “Stop Sign” to explore the difficulties of human communication.
“One of the problems I have with written communication,” she said, “is that the symbols for sounds — letters — change with their spatial orientation. And often letters and letter groupings are no longer directly connected to sound. That is incredibly confusing. The octagon, however, has only one meaning no matter its spatial orientation.”
She first stumbled upon the idea for the play while in graduate school, where she and other students created a performance piece called “Signs and Symbols.”
“It was then that I first became obsessed with the stop sign and was able to see how important it was to tell a story from a dyslexic point of view,” Papaleonardos said. “No one should feel stupid for thinking differently.”
Papaleonardos’ dyslexia first manifested itself in early elementary school with reading and spelling problems.
“I always felt different, with a funny long name and being Greek,” she recalled, “so dyslexia was just one of the many things that made me ‘other.’ … My biggest problem in writing deals with reversals, for instance: b, d, p, q. Those four letters are just a combination of circles and stems, but I still have difficulty writing them in the correct spatial orientation.”
Available Light often emphasizes the movement aspects of theater — a perfect fit for Papaleonardos, who says she’s more comfortable telling stories with the body than with words.
“The further communication gets away from the physical world, the easier it is to miscommunicate,” she said. “And when our education systems focus on only one way of learning, we exclude those creative, different thinkers.”
So the wheel comes full circle, the creative dyslexics teaching all of us how to communicate.