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October 20, 2002

Speaking with two voices

From: Knoxville News Sentinel, TN
Oct. 20, 2002

InterAct Children's Theater entertains deaf and hearing audiences

By Doug Mason, News-Sentinel arts writer
October 20, 2002

Acting is communication. Acting for the InterAct Children's Theater for the Deaf is bilingual communication.

Carol LaCava, Teresa Gregory and Julie Danielson, all interpreters for the deaf, founded the theater company in 1998. They use theater to bridge a "delay" in learning that they say keeps non-hearing children behind hearing children in reading development.

InterAct introduces deaf and hearing-impaired children to theater and literature through plays based on familiar books and fairy tales. The next production is "The Jungle Book," adapted from Rudyard Kipling's story about Mowgli, a young boy raised by wolves in the jungles of India.

Public performances of "The Jungle Book" are at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Palace Theater in Maryville, and 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville.

Also, there will be performances at the Tennessee School for the Deaf, South Knoxville Elementary School and Maryville's Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning.

InterAct evolved from productions that LaCava, Gregory and Danielson were involved in for other theater companies. In 1997 and 1998, they provided "shadow interpretation" for the deaf in children's theater productions of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," for the Tennessee Stage Company, and "The Wind in the Willows" and Kipling's "Just So Stories," for The Actors Co-op.

"Part of our inspiration (for founding InterAct) was realizing that the arts in general are pretty closed for deaf children, for accessibility reasons," LaCava says. "We provide deaf kids, mostly at the Tennessee School for the Deaf but also those in mainstream programs at local schools, exposure to literature and the performing arts."

LaCava says they noticed that deaf children are not as familiar with classic children's stories. So InterAct has presented such familiar stories as "Hansel & Gretel," "Rumpelstiltskin" (retold as "The King Who Loved His Lollipops"), "The Frog Prince" (retold as "Hyronomous A. Frog") and "Three Fables" (taken from Aesop's Fables). InterAct provides teachers with study packets that will familiarize students with the story before they attend the play.

"Deaf kids that came (to the pre-InterAct shows) were not as familiar with the stories," says LaCava. "They just don't have the access (to information) that hearing children have on a daily basis ... from TV, radio or just hearing the parents talking."

She says deaf children "usually have a language delay, depending on when their deafness was identified." She says some children are age 2 or older before their deafness is discovered, which delays their "reading development and having access to books." And if their parents don't learn sign language, "then no one is reading to them."

InterAct presents two shows annually, in spring and fall. Other past productions include "The Invisible Dragon," "The Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings" and "Just Like Us." "The Jungle Book" is InterAct's first presentation of a classic novel.

Though designed to benefit the non-hearing community, InterAct shows are also attended by hearing audiences.

"That's another one of our goals ... (to) educate the general public," says LaCava, who works as an instructor and coordinator for the University of Tennessee's department of Counseling, Deafness & Human Services.

"It allows (hearing) kids to be exposed to what sign language is and what it can offer. It provides disability awareness as well as awareness of the language.

"Even when we have performed for mostly hearing audiences, we get mostly a positive response that shadow interpreting has added so much more to the experience."

Meg Beach adapted the story and is co-directing "The Jungle Book." She says the sing language used in the play has "an almost dance-like quality" that "enhances the text" for the hearing members of the audience.

Most of the characters in InterAct plays communicate with both spoken word and American Sign Language. Usually, this is done by shadow interpretation - which involves two actors playing the same part, one speaking aloud, the other using ASL. But in "The Jungle Book," most of the actors will be bilingual, speaking aloud and in sign language simultaneously.

The bilingual feat is called simultaneous communication, or simcom for short.

"It's maybe the coolest thing I've seen an actor do, ever," says Meg Beach, who is co-directing her own adaptation of "The Jungle Book" for InterAct.

"Visually, it adds so much depth. (But it does) make the actor schizophrenic, speaking two languages at the same time."

The cast features one deaf actor, Craig LeMak, who plays Mowgli's bear-friend Baloo. An offstage actor, Darrell Vanzant, will supply Baloo's voice as LeMak speaks his dialogue in sign language.

Shere Kahn, the tiger intent on eating Mowgli, is played by Josh Beach (Meg's husband and co-director of "The Jungle Book"). Beach does not know sign language, but his performance will be shadow interpreted by Kim Hinckey. Rather than playing Shere Kahn, Hinckey's role is Tabaqui, a jackal who mirrors the tiger's speech and actions.

Kaa, a python who wants to put the squeeze on Mowgli, will be embodied by a 30-foot-long puppet. Wearing snake makeup to play Kaa's head will be actor Laura Champagney. LaCava will provide shadow interpretation.

Also in the cast are Robin Hamrick as Mowgli; James Harrison II as Bagheera; Shannon Collins as Akila, leader of the wolf pack and the play's narrator; and in various roles, Missey Wright and Tammy Cate. The sets are by Mark Hamrick.

For more on InterAct Children's Theater for the Deaf, go to

Doug Mason may be reached at 865-342-6441 or

Copyright 2002, Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.