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October 13, 2002

Deaf-friendly original play to be performed at Fall Foliage Family Float Festival at Smithville County Park in Eastampton

From: Burlington County Times, NJ
Oct. 13, 2002

By Lisa Helem
BCT staff writer

Children who like fairy tales will get to "listen" to one with their eyes when the Bridge Players Theatre Company performs "Mye and the Sandpeople," a deaf-friendly original play at the upcoming Fall Foliage Family Float Festival at Smithville County Park in Eastampton.

Written and directed by the group's artistic director, Celeste Bonfanti, the play includes sign language dialogue that tells the story of Imperia, a deaf empress from Yarbankian who must retrieve her happiness from a monster who houses it in a magic egg.

Mye, a traveler from Tantamee, is in search of a good story to tell her emperor back home. She happens upon Imperia's dilemma and uses it to craft her story.

The play differs from a traditional fairy tale in that it addresses the challenges of living with a language barrier.

Imperia, a powerful leader, signs to communicate with her subjects and runs her country with the help of sandpeople who interpret for her, Bonfanti said.

Bonfanti teaches deaf pupils at the George C. Baker School in Moorestown. She thought of the play as a way expose deaf children to a fanciful fairy tale.

"I wrote the play 12 years ago and it was really an effort to produce some quality theater accessible to deaf people," she said. "Generally, fairy tales have no one who is deaf or hard of hearing."

The play was first produced last season with a grant from the Burlington County Division of Parks Cultural and Heritage Affairs Office. It will run in a single free performance at noon Oct. 20 at the festival.

The Bridge Players Theatre Company, a volunteer group, began in Burlington County 25 years ago. Formerly based in Palmyra, the players began holding most of their performances in Burlington City last May.

Carole and Jenna Murry, mother and daughter actresses from Cinnaminson, recently joined the company. Both play sandpeople in the show, characters who serve as bridges between the hearing and deaf communities.

Carole Murry said the play has been an educational experience. "The first rehearsal we had, we got a lot of history on sign language. (Bonfanti) told us all kinds of information about the deaf that we didn't know before," she said.

Murry said the play differs from most interpreted plays because sign language dialogue is written into the script.

"Cast members can sign and respond to the audience. There is actually deaf dialogue written into the script, so I think it would make a deaf audience member more acknowledged," she said.

Bonfanti said the play, which runs a little more than an hour, reaches out to both hearing and deaf children and parents. "It's an opportunity to see an original fairy tale with some beautiful American Sign Language and it's a show that adults can enjoy with their children," she said.

Pat Marotta, president of the Bridge Players Theatre Company, said the play drew a big response during last year's season. "Several hundred people came out to see it last year. The adults loved it just as much as the kids did," she said.

The next performance of the Bridge Players Theatre Company will be "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" on Oct. 25 at Burlington City High School. For more about the Bridge Players Theatre Company 2002 season, call (856) 303-7620.

© Copyright 2002 Calkins Media, Inc. Burlington Times, Inc.