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November 10, 2004

Deaf actor teaches craft to special students

From: Palm Beach Post, FL - Nov 10, 2004

By Joe Bonikowski
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2004

After working hard studying their lines and rehearsing for four days, five students at Beacon Cove Intermediate School performed a series of short plays for more than 100 classmates, teachers and parents on Oct. 29.

And when their performance was finished, the budding actors didn't hear one clap.

They couldn't.

The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, students of Lynn Weinthal, are deaf. They worked all week with professional actor C.J. Jones of Los Angeles, who visited Beacon Cove and Berkshire Elementary in West Palm Beach, thanks to a grant from Very Special Arts (VSA) Florida.

But when his week was over, it wasn't just the deaf kids who learned some important lessons.

Jones, who is also deaf, directed Weinthal's students in a series of five vignettes on Americans who've made significant contributions to the deaf community, including Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell. Each of the students who performed received lessons in history and communications, and found out what it was like to be in front of an audience.

The afternoon of the show, in the school's cafeteria/auditorium, the five performers — Eddie Cota, 12; Jena DiGiovanni-Hersh, 10; Earl Edwards, 10; Shaq Fitzgerald, 9; and Jessica Raucci, 10 — were full of adrenaline.

Eddie, Earl and Shaq stayed busy getting props ready; Jena and Jessica found time to pose for a picture before Weinthal called them backstage.

Then Jones arrived and it wasn't long before showtime.

As the curtain opened, the actors were ready to perform. About 20 minutes later, they were theater veterans.

"These kids never get to see deaf adults," Weinthal said. It's a wonderful opportunity for them to work with a successful deaf adult.

"It gave them an opportunity to strut their stuff and gave them self-confidence to do this in front of their peers."

Jones, who has been working with Palm Beach County public schools for five years, has a very diverse background. He has worked with the National Theatre for the Deaf; performed on Broadway and in the national-touring production of Children of a Lesser God; had appearances on Frazier, Cold Case, A Different World and Sesame Street. Jones also tours with his one-man comedy show, The Living Cartoon.

And yet, he's not too busy to pass along his craft.

"It's a lot of fun," Jones said. "It's a great experience and these are great kids.

"It's always a lot of fun working with the deaf kids, and watching them learn and improve."

Before the show, he taught the audience how to applaud in sign language — by raising both hands in the air and quickly turning them from side to side.

When the show was over, the actors didn't hear any applause, but they saw a room full of people enthusiastically waving their raised hands side to side.

Jones then introduced his actors and hosted a question-and-answer session for the very curious hearing members of the audience.

One girl said she learned from her deaf classmates that it doesn't matter if you can hear or not.

"You can do anything you want to do," Jones told her. "You just have to have the right attitude.

"The most important thing is that you have to believe in yourself. That is the key to life."

Joe Bonikowski is a staff writer for Neighborhood Post. Reach him at 820-3031. Send faxes to 820-3021.

Copyright © 2004, The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.