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May 14, 2004

'Wizard of Oz' actors to give play a new twist

From: Detroit Free Press - Detroit,MI,USA - May 14, 2004

Performances will be in sign language

May 14, 2004

Free Press Education Writer

The cowardly lion's eyes glisten as he stretches his arms forward, then pulls them back and crosses them over his heart as he begs for courage. Dorothy, using the sign for home, moves her right hand from the corner of her mouth back to her ear, showing that she longs to return to Kansas.

These student-actors are using American Sign Languageto perform the classic play "The Wizard of Oz." They all participate in the Bloomfield Hills Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program and are presenting the first all-deaf performance in the program's 30-year history.

With a director, set designers and a cast of deaf or hard of hearing people ages 7-19, the students said through an interpreter, Kacey Tulley of Southfield, that they finally have ownership in a production.

The students, all from Oakland County, attend schools in Bloomfield Hills and West Bloomfield. They said the play gives them a chance to express their normalcy to peers, friends and family.

When she has performed in hearing plays, 18-year-old Jonelle Thames, who plays Dorothy, said through Tulley that she often found herself in the background.

"I felt maybe I wasn't as much involved," the Lahser High School student from Southfield said in sign language. "Sometimes the hearing students didn't know how to communicate with me, and I didn't communicate with them."

Justin (J.T.) Tillman, who plays the scarecrow, said the experience gives him more confidence.

"It's important to show people and also my family that I can take on this responsibility," Tillman, a 17-year-old Lahser student from Birmingham, said through Tulley.

Lahser High School Principal Jane Makulski said both deaf and hearing people will enjoy the play. Three off-stage interpreters will speak the parts for the hearing audience.

"You see the deaf and hard of hearing students in an entirely different role, even though they sign every day, and you see many of them participating in sports and other classroom activities," Makulski said. "In the play, just like any other student actor, they come alive."

The performance will be at 7 p.m. today and Saturday in the Lahser High School auditorium, 3456 Lahser Road, Bloomfield Hills. Admission is $5 for everyone.

Contact TERESA MASK at 248-351-3691 or

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