Improv artist breaks the sound barrier

But while her talent in improvisation may someday catch the eyes of Hollywood, Bruce, who bills herself as a “one deaf-woman show,” is by no means a one-dimensional performer—or person.

She travels from her base near Seattle to a wide array of venues from coast to coast, including universities, high schools and American Sign Language (ASL) events.

She uses ASL to perform six shows that involve stories, folktales, poems, songs, jokes and sketches; to deliver 15 workshops for interpreters and students of ASL; and to serve as a keynote speaker at deaf culture and other events for people interested in deafness.

“I enjoy seeing people laugh,” Bruce says.

Bruce grew up in Northern Virginia and became the only deaf member of her family at the age of six months as a result of meningitis. Her inability to hear has not changed over the years. She considers herself profoundly deaf.

Originally known as Patricia, she was nicknamed “Trix” by her friends early on. In school she used total communication and Signed Exact English (SEE). It was not until she attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) that Bruce fully began using ASL, and her passion for communicating through ASL grew.

In the years after RIT, Bruce earned certifications in linguistics, ASL education and interpreter training. She is certified at the highest level by the American Sign Language Teachers Association, and she is an approved sponsor in the Certification Maintenance Program of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, meaning she is authorized to provide workshops that count toward continuing education units for interpreters.

Bruce’s entree into drama occurred in the ninth grade when she played Helen Keller in her high school’s performance of The Miracle Worker. Bruce stayed involved in theater while finishing high school and earning her degrees from RIT. Some interpreters who knew Bruce through her workshops and other events during her post-RIT years thought she was a great storyteller and suggested that she try her own show.

“There were several entertainers out there succeeding,” she recalls. “So why not give it a shot?” Bruce tried stand-up comedy first, ultimately turning her act into the different shows that make up her repertoire today.

She says she gained some of her first insights into entrepreneurship through her coursework at the College of Business, where she developed skills to refine and communicate her ideas.

Bruce says she sees herself as a role model for all deaf people, and one of her goals is to leave a lasting impression on both deaf and hearing audiences that deaf people “can do it.” She says she would like “to get into films, TV, commercials,” in part to show “the hearing world” what deaf people can do.

An entertainer who is an original with an educational mission and a rapid-quick wit, Bruce is driving her career on a road she is paving as she goes. “Who knows?” she says. “No matter what, I am not going to give up!”

The University Magazine, Fall 2006