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May 30, 2003

Classic tale staged for both deaf and hearing

From: Democrat and Chronicle, NY - May 30, 2003

By Greg Livadas
Democrat and Chronicle

(May 30, 2003) — The performers in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory production at Nazareth College this week are using sign language on stage, but it doesn’t matter whether the audience understands it.

That’s because the lines of the five cast members -- some deaf, some hearing -- also are vocalized.

Sign Stage on Tour features five professional actors in the one-hour children’s play, which will be presented in 10 private shows for area schoolchildren and two performances Saturday for the public.

“I think deaf audiences are very receptive,” said Cheri Walters, also known as Violet Beauregarde, who dons a very large costume when her character turns into a giant blueberry. “It’s so great for them to know what’s going on without an interpreter standing in front of them.”

Sign Stage on Tour was formed two years ago by members of Cleveland Sign Stage in Ohio, said Joanna Elliott, the company tour manager who plays the spoiled Veruca Salt while in Rochester.

The cast has been to each corner of the continental United States since Jan. 31 and has performed for more than 55,000 people, Elliott said.

Jiselle Ramos, 7, of Rochester, waved her hands in the air in applause, as did many of her classmates from Holy Family School while attending a Wednesday performance.

“It was nice. I liked the part where Charlie found the golden ticket,” said Jiselle, who started learning sign language a year ago.

Most cast members have several parts in the production and have to change costumes quickly and often. They also change the props on the stage between scenes and most speak the lines for other characters on stage who are signing for themselves. “It’s a challenge,” Walters said.

Claudia Liolios, a deaf actress from Germany, remembers seeing traditional speaking plays without interpreters while growing up. “It was very hard to lip-read,” said Liolios, who plays the title role of Charlie Bucket while in Rochester.

Some of the cast members have previously performed with the National Theatre of the Deaf while others -- like Ryan McMullen, 22, who plays Willy Wonka and Grandpa Joe -- “knew nothing about sign language” before joining the company.

McMullen joined the traveling cast to see the country. But when the novelty of living from hotel to hotel wears thin, he’s considering another option: becoming a sign language interpreter.

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What: Sign Stage on Tour's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory , a one-hour children's play.

Where: Nazareth College Arts Center, 4245 East Ave., Pittsford.

When: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $9, available at the door.

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.