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February 1, 2003

Signs of success

From: Wichita Eagle, KS - 01 Feb 2003

Little Theatre of the Deaf to perform "The Giving Tree" at Newman University.

The Wichita Eagle

Jerry Goehring thought that Wichita had prepared him for almost anything he would encounter in theater, but he admits that nothing could have prepared him for his current job.

"The first deaf person I ever met was when I walked in the door," said Goehring, a native Wichitan now working as executive director for the National Theatre of the Deaf.

"But what's important isn't the deaf aspect, it's that they are a theater company, and one of the most highly regarded in the world."

Although Goehring won't be joining them for one of his annual homecoming visits to Wichita, his company's Little Theatre of the Deaf troupe will be in Newman University's De Mattias Fine Arts Center at 3 p.m. Sunday for a performance of "The Giving Tree." The play is based on Shel Silverstein's beloved children's book, and done in the distinctive style of the National Theatre of the Deaf.

"What they do is take the visual language of American Sign Language, and the spoken word, and perform them at the same time," Goehring said. "Everyone signs, but it's not like there's a voice-over or an interpreter. The performance is like a dance, like sculpture in the air."

The style has kept the National Theatre of the Deaf in business for 35 years, making it the oldest continually operating theatrical company of any kind in the United States. The troupe has performed in all 50 states and on six continents during 32 international tours. It won a Tony award for theatrical excellence in 1977, and was recently nominated for a spoken-word Grammy for Ogden Nash's "The Christmas that Almost Wasn't."

Goehring came to the National Theatre of the Deaf after many years of working in more traditional types of theater. After graduating from Wichita State University, he worked for several theaters here before leaving to produce shows in New York, London and around the country.

"Wichita, and especially its theater community, were very special," Goehring said. "I worked with a lot of wonderfully talented people, and I'm proud to know I received my training from that community and WSU. It's nice to be able to share with the world a bit of that training."

That training didn't include American Sign Language, but Goehring said that since joining the theater in 1999 he's learned enough "to get by." Learning other aspects of deaf culture was also important to his job, Goehring said, but otherwise he only needed what he had learned in the world of theater.

"They use their language as their art form, and that's the only difference," Goehring said. "Theater is theater, and good theater is good theater, and that's where they excel."

Copyright 2003 The Wichita Eagle