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March 21, 2004

Musical a bridge between hearing and deaf cultures

From: San Diego Union Tribune - San Diego,CA,USA - Mar 21, 2004

By Marcia Manna

VISTA – Inside the program notes for the musical "Survival: A New Generation," staged by American Sign Language students, the audience will discover a deflated balloon. It's a sensory aid to help Vista High School's signing students create a bridge between hearing and deaf cultures. When the balloon is inflated, the hearing-impaired can feel the vibration of the music in their fingertips.

Everyone in the audience will be invited to try it when the show opens Thursday at the Avo Playhouse in Vista.

Students will sign lyrics and dance to recorded segments of Top 40 songs. Teacher Lisa Jones, who had led the program for four years, grades juniors and seniors on their signing skills.

"There is a great interaction between the sign-language students and the deaf," said Kevin Ortiz, a Vista High graduate who was enrolled in the class for three years.

"There are many kids and teens who attend. We have had sold-out shows ever since the program was started. It exposes people to the deaf community, and it stimulates students to want to learn a unique, beautiful language."

Ortiz, who is hard of hearing, attends the University of California San Diego. His two younger sisters will perform in the production.

The National Association for the Deaf reports that ASL is one of the most widely used languages in the United States. The San Diego County Office of Education estimates that 350 deaf and hard-of-hearing students reside in North County.

"Survival" is more than an entertaining demonstration of signing skills. As each song is played, the audience will see and hear comments taken from essays written by more than 160 ASL students.

Sentences reflecting life experiences, written anonymously, are narrated and signed during the instrumental portion of each song.

The students gave frank and sometimes profound responses to the questions: Who are you right now? What's important to you?

Teen perspectives on everything from the death of a grandparent to divorce, body image and abuse have been integrated into songs with a similar or complementary theme.

During the instrumental portion of "Where is the Love?," recorded by the Black Eyed Peas, one line read: "People judge you before they know you."

Another stated: "My three best friends started showing racism. I ignored it because we were all white. But then, their hate started turning to Jews. I'm Jewish. They ditched me."

"Kind & Generous" by Natalie Merchant gave students an opportunity to express gratitude.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without the love of my dad," one student wrote. "He taught me it was OK to cry."

Expressing themselves freely and anonymously exposed the students to the inner thoughts of their peers.

In their desire to reach out to the deaf community, the classmates also learned to reach out to one another.

"I think a lot of us were interested and even comforted to know that we aren't the only people feeling like that," said Sabrina Jones, 17.

Tara Figueroa, a junior, summed up the intent of the entire ensemble: "We want to show everyone that they aren't alone."

Let us know about North County arts/leisure events. Please alert us at least four weeks in advance. We work ahead! Contact Marcia Manna at or (760) 476-8223.

What: "Survival: A New Generation"
When: 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Where: Avo Playhouse, 303 Main St., Vista
Cost: $7
Information: (760) 522-3846 or

© Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.