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April 12, 2006

Actors sign their lines

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Apr 12, 2006

Olympia students do play tonight

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(April 12, 2006) — GREECE — The dress rehearsal was much like any other, with props being searched for, wardrobe malfunctions and scenery backdrops inexplicably rising and falling.

"OK, guys, we're about to start," yelled an actress to the rest of the cast backstage at Olympia High School.

The voices went silent as the actors began moving their hands, speaking their lines in American Sign Language.

Twenty students, members of Olympia's ASL Club, were performing Holka Polka, a fairy tale-themed stage play. It's the third year the club has performed a play, intended to help them hone their signing skills and entertain children who use ASL in the community.

Rochester is home to one of the largest concentrations of people who are deaf, with thousands who communicate in sign language.

Sharon Duffy said the plays at Olympia began after she took her students to watch ASL plays at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

"They enjoyed it so much, they wanted to do a performance of their own," she said. "And it gives them a chance to show off their skills."

Each signing actor has an unseen cast member off stage who voices the lines, so audience members not knowing sign language can follow the plot. One of the voice actors is Steve Regnet, 16, a junior, who performed on stage last year.

He keeps an eye on the actors, as well as the script, so he can voice the lines at the same time they are being displayed in sign language.

"It's hard to do," he said.

Janelle Whiting, 17, a senior, said she took her first sign language class four years ago because the Spanish classes were filled. "I became very interested in it because I talked with my hands anyway," she said.

Mary McCombs, 18, a senior, hopes one day to become an interpreter or a teacher of ASL. "It's very interesting. It's so expressive," she said.

Jacque Mangefrida, 15, a sophomore, remembered learning how to fingerspell the alphabet when she was in kindergarten. So when she was able to learn more sign language in high school, she enrolled in the class.

"I enjoy sign language," Jacque said. "It just flows well and it's fun to do. You use creative body language and more facial expression."

Duffy, who is producing and directing the play with student teacher Maria Tedeschi, said the cast began learning its lines independently in February.

Last week,during a rehearsal, Tyler Bazzi, 26, sat in the front row to offer suggestions to the actors. Bazzi, from Silverton, Ore., is a deaf student at NTID and is friends with Tedeschi.

"I didn't expect a lot. I know the students are learning ASL," said Bazzi, who made sure cast members didn't block other actors' signing while on stage. "At first I missed a little, but I was able to follow along."

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