IM this article to a friend!

March 17, 2005

Deaf students get their cue in school play

From: Green Bay Press Gazette - Green Bay,WI,USA - Mar 17, 2005

Two star in Southwest's 'Arsenic and Old Lace'

By Kelley Bruss

Freshman Stephanie Gibbons's expressive face and vivid body language made a big impression when she auditioned for "Arsenic and Old Lace."

"Amazing," said Kady Beekman, a senior at Green Bay Southwest High School and director of the school drama club's spring production. "She was so good. I was like, We have to get her in here somewhere."

That decision made, Beekman's next move was to find a way to provide a spoken voice for Gibbons, who is deaf and communicates with American Sign Language.

When the show opens Friday, Gibbons will take the stage alongside sophomore Meghan Delie — the two are double-cast in a single role, Officer Brophy. Gibbons signs the character's dialogue while Delie speaks it aloud.

"They're like a well-oiled team," said interpreter Kit Harris-Mader, who helps backstage. "I was impressed."

It's nothing new for a deaf or hard-of-hearing student to participate in a production at Southwest. But this is the first time anyone remembers that a role has been double-cast with one student who speaks and one who signs.

This also is Gibbons's stage debut.

"I was so scared before" auditions, she signed, as interpreter Carol Schleis spoke. But she decided it was worth a try.

"Everyone thinks my expression is so wonderful, so I thought, 'Why not?' " Gibbons said.

Senior Kate Skarda, another "Arsenic" cast member who is deaf, said it's no surprise Gibbons gets tagged as a natural for the stage.

"I think that deaf people especially have really innate acting talent," Skarda said.

Once Gibbons got the part, she felt a little overwhelmed. At first, Delie "kept nudging me when I was supposed to sign."

"It was challenging at first, trying to figure out how to tell her to sign," Delie said.

After hours of rehearsals, the two now mesh nicely. Still, Gibbons admits to some butterflies about coordinating their work during the performances this weekend.

"It's hard to get the timing down — I'm trying to match her," she said.

Beekman lifted the idea of double-casting from the show "Big River," which played the Weidner Center in November.

"Big River" is a musical based on Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Some of the actors in the touring show are deaf, including the actor who plays Huck Finn.

Others speak and sing for the deaf performers.

Beekman figured if they could do it, why couldn't Southwest students? The experiment worked even better than she'd hoped.

"It really wasn't that hard to put an extra cop in," Beekman said. "I didn't have any problems, actually."

Mary Delie, the drama club adviser, said the rest of the 17-member cast — including two "dead" bodies — embraced Gibbons and Skarda.

"It's so commonplace to have the deaf students here, that it's very expected," she said.

The Green Bay School District's services for high school students who are deaf or hard of hearing are concentrated at Southwest.

In past productions, some deaf students have been cast in nonspeaking roles. Others, like Skarda, have won speaking parts.

Skarda, 18, has been active in drama since she landed a leading role as a freshman.

On stage, hearing aids help, as does her knowledge of the play.

"I have the script memorized," she said. "So I know what they're saying, but I have to know when they're saying it."

She depends on an interpreter backstage to find out when her cues are coming.

"I can't hear them when they're speaking because they're projecting out to the audience," she said.

Tuesday morning, the cast did several scenes for some language arts classes. The performances were part of the school's fine arts week celebration.

Afterward, Mary Delie and Beekman still were tweaking plans for Friday's opening.

They decided Gibbons and Meghan Delie need to make their first entrance in a different way so that Gibbons can be seen signing right away.

It's safe to assume Gibbons will adapt to the last-minute change.

"We try to prove to the outside world that we can succeed in whatever we try," she said.

"Anything's possible," Skarda added.

Serving students who are deaf

This year, the Green Bay School District has 111 students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The district concentrates its programs for those students at Kennedy Elementary, Lombardi Middle School and Southwest High School. Kennedy has 22, Lombardi has 14 and Southwest has 15.

Other students attend their home schools and receive necessary support services there.

See the show

• What: The Green Bay Southwest High School drama club is putting on three performances of "Arsenic and Old Lace."

• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Auditorium, Southwest, 1331 Packerland Drive.

• Tickets: $5 at the door.

• More: A reserved section will be set aside Friday so hearing-impaired audience members and their families can see the American Sign Language interpreter.

© 2005 Gannett Wisconsin Online