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October 4, 2004

Russian troupe thrills audience

From: Brattleboro Reformer, VT - Oct 4, 2004

Reformer Staff

PUTNEY -- The Putney School Theater was packed and lively on Saturday night, as students, alumni, staff and families from the Austine School, as well as community members, gathered to watch a performance by the Russian ensemble Toys Theater.

They didn't disappoint.

Founded in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1985, Toys Theater consists of four performers -- Loudmila Romanovskaya, Vassily Solonitsky, Alexander Filimonov and Ilya Golstov -- all of whom are deaf. The director, Oleg Golovushkin, is also deaf.

Using sternum-rattling music, pantomime, gesture, costumes almost as loud as the music, a bubble-making machine and a minimal number of props, the cast kept the audience entertained for an hour and a half.

"It was very funny," said Austine School student John Holey. "My face was red I was laughing so much."

(Bill Peltier, president of the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, Inc., the parent organization of the Austine School, translated for students communicating in American Sign Language.)

Fellow students Chris Branningan, Audree Connelly and Zach Nuiwte agreed with Holey's assessment.

"This is my third time seeing them," explained Nuiwte. "But I liked it. It took me a while to catch my breath I laughed so hard."

The performance was part of the Austine School's 100th birthday celebration. Alumni spent the day at the school and then joined current students for the performance, filling every seat in the theater and lining the balcony with spectators.

The teenage students of Austine weren't the only ones to give the internationally known group a rave review.

Very young children, pre-teens, adults, hearing and deaf alike came away with nothing but praise.

"It was wonderful," said Dan Allen, whose son Bryan attends Austine. "It just shows that there are all kinds of communication."

Three-year-old Paddy Krueger was also impressed -- by the clown, by the bubbles, as well as by all the sweet treats for sale after the show. The bake sale was a fundraiser for the school, which is trying to raise $15,000 for a matching library grant.

The audience and performers lingered in the lobby long after the show, buying up brownies and cookies, along with Russian souvenirs.

Because few theater performances in the area include a sign language interpreter, the opportunity to enjoy a top-notch show was a treat for many.

According to students Branningan and Connelly, because the performers were themselves deaf, they were attuned to the expectations and needs of a deaf audience.

They said that hearing actors could achieve the same but only with a great deal of practice and focus.

While the sharing of deaf culture connected those on the stage with many in the audience, the actors' use of universal themes -- humor, jealousy, sadness -- allowed everyone to connect to them on some level.

But, pointed out Austine staff member Amy Richardson, other cultural differences surfaced.

Richardson, who is deaf and was once a theater performer, said that Toys Theater's Russian background was apparent by the music and costumes used, as well as by the actors' style of interacting with the audience.

Despite the difference in style, Richardson said she loved the show, as did her brother J.P. and her father Peter.

Austine art teacher Kathy Velon said that not only was the show wonderful, but so was the fact that so many deaf and hard-of-hearing people turned out to see it.

"It was great to bring the community together," she said.

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