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March 7, 2006

Musical uses deaf actors

From: Press-Enterprise - Riverside,CA,USA - Mar 7, 2006

By STEPHEN MANNING / The Associated Press

BETHESDA, MD. - In a whorl of contorting limbs, flying braids and colorful costumes, four actors spin around the stage to a hip-hop beat.

"Anansi, where you be?" they shout, moving their hands in unison with the words.

Their timing is off, between what they speak and what they say with their hands, says Patrick Crowley, director of "Hip Hop Anansi." An interpreter next to him converts everything he says into sign language.

"I think they need to know how fast they want to speak," he says to choreographer Fred Beam, who is deaf. Beam focuses on the sign-language translator to understand Crowley.

Welding two languages over hip-hop beats presents a communication and staging challenge. Performed by a cast that includes deaf performers, "Hip Hop Anansi" strives to be understood and appreciated by an audience made up of people who hear and those who cannot.

The children's show was written with the belief that hip hop is something that can transcend the barriers that deafness creates on stage.

"The signing is integrated into the action of the play," said Kate Bryer, associate artistic director. "We intentionally cast deaf actors and it was conceived of using deaf actors. We have a real mission here."

© 2006, The Press-Enterprise Company