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April 20, 2005

'Shadow Signing' Brings Play to Life

From: The Ledger, FL - Apr 20, 2005

Ledger Correspondent

In a first for Lakeland, two performances of Mark Medoff's "Children of a Lesser God," opening Thursday at Pied Piper Players, will feature shadow-signing, a technique in which sign-language interpreters "shadow" a play's actors to allow deaf and hearing-impaired viewers to enjoy an integrated dramatic experience.

Unlike traditional sign-language interpretation, in which signers stand off to the side and thus divert hearing-impaired viewers' attention from centerstage, shadow signing allows everyone in the audience to see and understand the play's action as it happens.

The shadow-signing shows will be presented on two consecutive Saturdays -this week and April 30, at 7:30 p.m.

The technique is fast becoming the preferred method of presenting theater to those who use sign-language, says Allison Williams, who is directing "Children of a Lesser God."

"I learned about (shadow signing) at the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, where they had us shadow sign for four performances," says Williams, who spent last fall studying American Sign Language in preparation for the Lakeland show.

Many of her actors, too, have learned to sign for "Children of a Lesser God," which tells the story of a sensitive young teacher and a student, deaf since birth, whom he meets at a school for the hearing-impaired.

"Everyone on stage has to sign, at least a little," Williams says. "It's effectively doing a play in another language. . . . We were still learning our lines (late into production) because we were learning lines in another language."

Steve Smith plays James, the young teacher whose recollections form the basis of "Children of a Lesser God." A senior at the Harrison School for the Visual and Performing Arts, Smith played Hamlet in the school's recent Shakespeare production.

"He's really magnificent, and he's only 18," Williams says of her lead. "Realistically, he's two or three years young for the role, but he's supposed to be a young man, and he just brings this 'I-can-doanything-I-put-my-mind-to' attitude that we often see in young people."

Playing Sarah Norman, the deaf woman whom James tries to reach, is Gretchen Ceranic, a stage novice who got the role on the strength of her experience as a sign-language interpreter in the Hillsborough County public school system.

"She's really a natural actor," Williams says of Ceranic, whose character signs but never speaks in the play. "She's just been marvelous." The director says Ceranic's background as a former Marine has given her the discipline for the task, as well as the respect of fellow cast members.

Others in the cast include Andrew Bustos as Orin Dennis, a radical student at the school; Susan Lovell as Mrs. Norman, Sarah's mother; Terry Duncan as Mr. Franklin, James' supervisor; Rachel Shepherd as Lydia, a student with a crush on James; and Heather Robinson as Edna Klein, a lawyer representing the hearing impaired. Both Shepherd and Robinson also are students at Harrison.

Director Williams says the opportunity to work with shadow signers will benefit everyone involved in the production, not just hearing-impaired audiences.

"I think it's going to be really interesting for the hearing audience to see," she says.

What's more, the technique also has had a positive effect on her cast.

"As an actor, it's incredible," the director says of working with shadow signers. "It's like having double acting energy."

WHAT: "Children of a Lesser God." A Pied Piper Players production. Performances this Saturday and April 30 will be signed by sign language interpreters "shadowing" the actors.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; this week through May 1.

WHERE: Lake Mirror Center, 121 S. Lake St., Lakeland.

COST: $14 adults, $8 ages 18 and younger. Reserved seating. Discount for those associated with deaf community.


Copyright 2004 The Ledger