IM this article to a friend!

September 21, 2004

Enthusiastic cast members know No Limits

From: San Diego Union Tribune, CA - Sep 21, 2004

Ozzie Roberts
September 21, 2004

Allison Emge and nine newfound friends are having too much fun hurdling obstacles and being creative kids to think about controversies among grown-ups.

And one of their most rewarding adventures – one that they and others, most elders, say they won't soon forget – played out on a stage last month at Allison's alma mater, Francis Parker School.

The 7-year-old and her pals, cast members all in a special theater arts and education program, performed an original play called Building Blocks.

It's about a young boy, who, in struggling to earn a spot on a basketball team, learns to use strength and fortitude to overcome life's roadblocks.

With deft timing, smooth talking and quick wit, Allison et al. wowed the packed house and got a roaring standing ovation.

"It was fun," says the second-grader from Mission Hills. "I do like to be in front of an audience."

Despite profound deafness that was diagnosed at age 2, Allison has longed to be a thespian since early in first grade.

And yet she's, by no means, the only cast member who strongly relates to the theme of the play.

They all have some degree of hearing disability and utilize hearing aids or cochlear implants. And they were all part of the show because its producer – No Limits – soars with charges like them.

No Limits, an 8-year-old, L.A.-based nonprofit organization, strives to improve auditory, speech and language development among children nationwide who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. And it tries to do it by involving the youngsters in theatrical workshops and stage productions.

Allison and her new friends, most who didn't know each other before this summer, came to the three-week project, complete with daily six-hour workshops, from all parts of San Diego County.

And they were most enthusiastic.

"I very, very much like acting, and I wanted to perform with other kids (with hearing disabilities)," says Allison. "No Limits gave us the chance to do that. And (hearing devices) made it easier for us to perform."

Yet in the grown-up world, controversy swirls around the hearing devices themselves.

On one side, folks hail cochlear implants as technological boons allowing the deaf to function better in the world of the hearing.

On the other side, those opposed say the deaf are part of a culture that instead of relying on devices to help it hear, should learn to effectively communicate through its own natural language – sign language.

Arguments on both sides are compelling.

But kids don't think about stuff like that.

"I never felt like I was different because of my deafness," says Allison, who adds that she always tries her best to do the things she wants to do.

Her parents, attorneys Suzanne and Derek Emge, say their daughter has a "strong, strong spirit" that seemed to be there from birth.

It spurred them, they say, to keep up the quest for her cochlear implant more than five years ago. And it also helps keep them assured that their kid will do whatever it may take, including eventually learning sign language, to gain fulfillment in her life.

"I was grieving – I felt helpless," says Suzanne Emge, recalling when she learned of her daughter's diagnosis. "But then I'd see (Allison) – she'd be so gregarious and so determined." The sight, she says, would make her and her husband feel that, somehow, everything would be OK.

The Emges joined with other parents seeking ways to involve local children like Allison in more art and education programs, and Suzanne led the initiative to bring No Limits to San Diego.

Now, they say, they can see that there is a lot of extraordinary young talent and energy out there and, along with other parents, they're considering making the summer project an annual event.

Yet to the kids in the cast, they'll remember, most of all that they've made new friends; they got to do something new and challenging; and they had a ball doing it.

That's something all parents want for their kids.

© Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.