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January 16, 2003

YOUTH: 'Learning to Live'

From: Grand Forks Herald, ND - 16 Jan 2003

Students prepare for play by learning about disabilities
By Paulette Tobin
Herald Staff Writer

To prepare for his role as a paraplegic, Jared Killfoil spent an hour trying to maneuver himself and a wheelchair into a handicapped bathroom stall at Red River High School in Grand Forks.

"He found out a little bit about what it was like to be in a wheelchair, like how difficult it is to get through (when you're) on carpet," said Natasha Yearwood, writer and director of a play about a teen-ager dealing with the devastating consequences of an accident.

Yearwood, 16, a senior at Red River High School, researched the lives of people with disabilities while writing a two-act drama, "Learning to Live." Students from Red River will present the play tonight and Friday night at Empire Arts Center, with proceeds earmarked for the North Dakota Association for the Disabled.

Brian's story

The story of a high school student named Brian who is paralyzed in a car accident, "Learning to Live" focuses on physical and emotional rehabilitation, Yearwood said.

Her interest in disabilities began with a speech she prepared for a class, and her study of the life of actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in a riding accident and who has become an advocate for persons with disabilities.

"I was interested in how people with that sort of injury moved on with their lives," she said. "Last summer, I started looking into writing something. I'd always doodled around in fiction and little plays, but I decided to sit down and write a full drama."

In all, three actors in the cast portray people with disabilities. Brian's mother, played by Kara Barke, is deaf, and his friend, Steve, played by Chris Berg, has an artificial foot. Other cast members are Cory Diers, Dan Dutot, Justine Fischer, Mike Knutson, Peter Levitov, Jason Lillibridge, Roxie Moen, Lauren Palay, Raquel Sidie-Wagner, Ellery Tofte, Jon Walters, Adam Whetham and Janelle Young.

Real life

Yearwood said she and the cast wanted to portray the lives of disabled persons as realistically as possible.

"It's been difficult for the cast. They're working hard," she said. "Most of what I did was provide them with the research I did. Some of them even did a little research on their own. We weren't ever able to find someone with paraplegic injuries that we could speak to. But we did call the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and then we talked to people from NDAD (North Dakota Association for the Disabled)."

Barke, who plays Brian's deaf mother, learned some sign language for the part. Ron Wilkening, an instructor for the hearing impaired in the Grand Forks School District, taught some sign language and helped Yearwood incorporate it into her script, said Dean Opp, fine arts instructor at Red River High School.

"Learning to Live" is a student-run production in nearly every way, Opp said, and a good educational opportunity for all involved.

"I just think it is tremendous in the fact that it's all student initiated," he said. "Sometimes people don't think students do good things. They only hear about the bad things. This is a good thing."

© 2003 Grand Forks Herald