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November 22, 2003

Midpark High actress is an utter success

From: Cleveland Plain Dealer, OH - Nov 22, 2003

Carl Matzelle Plain Dealer Reporter

Middleburg Heights- When Midpark High School's theater asks for quiet on the set, students rehearsing for this weekend's production of "12 Angry Jurors" enter into the silent world of fellow actor Anna Ramach.

Anna, 16, has been deaf since birth, but her confidence runs deep.

Anna speaks with little evidence of her deafness. She reads lips and uses the assistance of a signing interpreter to help her understand words spoken around her.

This weekend, Anna plays the lead antagonist in the Midpark High School adaptation of "12 Angry Men" - called "12 Angry Jurors" because the drama is co-ed.

As juror No. 3, Anna portrays the prejudiced, closed-minded individual played by Lee J. Cobb in the movie version.

"I've never been the bad guy before, and I'm really enjoying it," said Anna, assisted by her interpreter, Janet Coutris.

Anna speaks her lines, but the set includes a picture window at the rear of the stage so Coutris can sign the other actors' lines for Anna during the play, which has its final performance tonight.

"It is rare for students like Anna to become successful on stage," said Laurie Burman, director of audiology for the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center. "It's very difficult for people who are born deaf to master spoken language and speak comprehensibly."

As a fourth-grader, Anna transferred from Lakewood's deaf education program and was the first deaf student to attend Brook Park Memorial Elementary School.

Although she was nervous about being the school's only deaf student, she adapted by organizing the Sign Language Club, which helped students to understand situations that deaf people confront daily.

Teaching classmates how to sign led to international attention in 2000 when Anna, then a seventh-grader at Ford Middle School, was among 10 Greater Cleveland students named by the Walt Disney Co. as "Millennium Dreamers."

Anna, now a junior, said she enjoys speaking with individuals, but has difficulty when trying to talk with a group.

"Sometimes, I need things repeated, and I get frustrated when someone says, Never mind,' or It's not important.' Tell me! I want to know!"

Over the holidays, Anna will be signing "The Night Before Christmas" to other area deaf children, as well as speaking to various public and civic organizations about her world, in a speech she's titled, "In a World of Silence." Last June, Anna gave that speech at the National Forensic League Speech and Debate Tournament in Atlanta.

She is also a member of a traveling singing and dancing group called the Midpark Magic Show Choir and the Symphonic Choir.

She began acting in middle school.

"Anna is always prepared," said Aleece Roach, 16, who plays juror No. 8 in this weekend's production and who has been friends with Anna since the seventh grade. "We know how important it is to be at our best so she can be, too."

Jeremy Whittmore, 17, a senior who plays juror No. 4, agrees. "She's all about motivation and patience," he said.

© 2003 The Plain Dealer.