Arlene Velleman is the American Sign Language and a Special Education teacher at Waltham High School. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech/Hearing Therapy and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Northeastern University. After graduation, Arlene worked at Perkins School for the Blind’s Deaf/Blind Program as a teacher. She then came to the Waltham Public Schools, and taught at Fitch Elementary School, McDevitt Middle School, and now the High School.
Arlene is also a trained actor, and formally studied theater at the Opera Lab, Boston University Theater Institute, and workshops at National Theatre of the Deaf. She has worked with Watertown Children’s Theatre as an ASL instructor/interpreter, Arlington Community Theatre as a stage interpreter, Roxbury Repertory Theater as a performer/signer, and the Opera Lab as a singer/performer. She is most proud of touring the country with well-known Deaf actor, the late Mark Allen Branson, as the “Voice/Jack,” in his one man show, The Trunk.
Arlene’s passion is sharing her love of the Deaf Community, Deaf Culture, and American Sign Language with her students and the audiences at Watertown Children’s Theatre and MCA.
What’s your earliest memory of the arts?
My biggest early memory was going to an audition at WBZ studios to be on a local children’s show, Big Brother. Because I could sing and looked the part, I was selected to represent Hawaii on the show. I got to dress up in traditional dress, performed, and had a professional photo taken at the station. Bob Emery, the star, rehearsed with me, and pretended he was painting my photo on the Big Island as part of the scene. I still have the photo in my hallway at home.
Do you have a favorite memory or story about MCA?
My favorite memory is being awarded the 2019 Mosesian Center for the Arts Community Award. It was for all the work I have done to provide full access to the arts, and sharing my love of ASL with the children of the Watertown Children’s Theatre. I did not expect this honor, and still cannot believe this happened to me.
How have you stayed connected to the arts in the past year?
Staying connected to the arts has been so difficult since the March 13th Covid -related closures. However, I have done things just for fun.
- I have tried to interpret Hamilton when watching it on Disney+. I still have to admit Daveed Diggs still raps so quickly and is a challenge.
- I have also done signing, character, and lip-synced videos on Tic Tok just to keep performing.
- I just finished my first virtual performance with the Watertown Children’s Theatre—and we’re getting ready to do The Stinky Cheese Man with the new ASL Ensemble.
Who’s your favorite artist (of any form—visual arts, theater, music, dance)?
My current favorite artist is Lin Manuel Miranda. His talents as a writer, composer, actor, and singer are amazing. He is also such a strong advocate for inclusion, equal access for all in theater/diversity, and for Puerto Rico, which is so impressive. He is number one on my “want to meet” list.
My favorite actor and role model was Deaf actor, Mark Allen Branson (1955 – 1997). He trained me to become the performer and stage interpreter I have become. I feel like I continue his legacy through my work at Waltham High School and at MCA/WCT.
Do you have a favorite artwork?
My favorite visual artist is Claude Monet. When I was in France, I went to his home in Giverny. I saw the pond where he painted his famous waterlilies and the field where he did his haystacks series. I even ate lunch across the street from the Cathedral in Rouen, where he painted his famous series of that church. Just seeing all of this, his work spoke to me. It was a love I was able to share with my mother.
Do you have a favorite musical or play?
I love so many plays… all genres!!!! However, my current favorite is Hamilton. I know every word to the entire play!!! However, plays have special meaning for me…
- The Music Man: The first Broadway show I saw when I was 8 years old.
- Li’l Abner: The first professional show I saw with my mom.
- The Cher Show: I got to see my longtime friend, Michael Graceffa, perform on Broadway. It was so exciting.
- When I was growing up, I listened to my parents’ records over and over again. I fell in love with Gordon MacRae’s voice. My Mom loved me walking around the house singing with the soundtracks. I always have loved Oklahoma, Pajama Game, and Soliloquy from Carousel.
- National Theatre of the Deaf productions, King of Hearts and One More Spring.
Do you have a favorite quote about the arts or one you’d like to share?
When Mark Branson started to work with National Theatre of the Deaf, which was his dream, he shared this quote with me…
“Live every day to the fullest… it’s a mistake not to.”
He had this hanging in his office, and he told me the only way to achieve a dream was to do this. I try my best to follow his philosophy every day.