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September 25, 2003

Deaf woman heard Hollywood calling

From: Ventura County Star, CA - Sep 25, 2003

Emmy winner visits area college

By Michelle L. Klampe,

Julianna Fjeld offered a simple message Wednesday to students and staff at Oxnard College.

"The purpose of my story is to let you know you can do anything," said Fjeld, who was invited to the campus to share her experience as a deaf woman working in the entertainment industry.

"Hearing people have eyes in their ears. Deaf people have ears in their eyes," she said in sign language, as an interpreter spoke the words to the crowd. "We're still all equal. We're still all the same."

It was the kind of message members of the Deaf Oxnard College Students group hoped to deliver to the community by inviting Fjeld to the campus as part of Deaf Awareness Day.

"I think it's really important for hearing people to learn about deaf culture," said Adriana Nino, a 22-year-old sophomore from Oxnard, who co-chaired the event with her brother, Ricardo.

"We wanted to give exposure of deaf people to hearing people," Ricardo Nino said. Deaf Awareness Day "is actually a celebration nationally, so that's why we celebrate it."

More than 100 people crowded into the school's auditorium for Fjeld's hourlong presentation. She decided she wanted to be an actor after meeting Spencer Tracy while attending John Tracy School, which was founded by Tracy's wife.

After college, Fjeld pursued her interest in acting, joining the National Theater of the Deaf. Later she served as a consultant on the Broadway and Los Angeles productions of "Children of a Lesser God," and landed several acting roles on stage and screen.

She also discovered that part of her job was to educate people about deaf culture, answering such questions as: "Can you drive?" and "Do deaf people get married?"

"I found out that deaf people in Los Angeles didn't know how to buy tickets to the theater, so I set up a project so deaf people could learn about theater," she said. The effort at the Mark Taper Forum was called Project D.A.T.E. (Deaf Audience Theater Experience).

In the early 1980s, Fjeld was co-executive producer of "Love is Never Silent," a made-for-television movie that was considered groundbreaking at the time. The movie, adapted from a book, told the story of a deaf couple raising a hearing child in the 1930s and 1940s.

Those experiences, Fjeld said, proved her point that deaf people can do anything they want. But Fjeld also brought physical proof to back up her words.

It was sitting on a table at the front of the auditorium, but nobody realized exactly what it was until she began unwrapping it.

"I live at the beach," said Fjeld, now a Ventura resident. "I wrapped it in a beach towel."

Underneath the brightly colored cloth was a shiny gold statuette -- the Emmy award Fjeld won as an executive producer of "Love is Never Silent," which was named best movie.

"There she is. Isn't she beautiful?" Fjeld said of her prize as the crowd cheered. "She's mine, but it's because of you and people like you that I got it."

Copyright 2003, Ventura County Star. All Rights Reserved.