IM this article to a friend!

July 10, 2006

Camp teaches deaf children communication skills

From: Carroll County Times, MD - Jul 10, 2006

By Diane Reynolds, Times Staff Writer

The students at this camp punch each other in the face and pull each other's hair.

They enjoy it - because it's not real.

They're part of Theater Alive, a new drama camp for deaf children that finished a two-week session Friday at McDaniel College.

Tami Santimyer, an actress from New York who describes herself as profoundly deaf, co-taught the drama course with Corrie Pond, a hearing actor from New York who once lived in Westminster.

"It's a camp with many benefits," Santimyer said in American Sign Language. These benefits include learning to work together as a team, learning to trust each other and learning acting techniques, she said.

"It challenges their creativity," Santimyer said. "They have to use their imaginations."

It also will help them better navigate the hearing world, she said.

"They have to use their bodies to communicate without using sign," she said. They can transfer those forms of communicating to everyday life.

Most deaf students are bilingual, with ASL as their first and English as their second language, said Mark Rust, coordinator of the deaf education program at McDaniel

The deaf education office offers Theater Alive, and a genre literacy camp that begins this week, to help students hone their skills in both languages, Rust said.

The drama camp is collaboration between McDaniel and Quest: Arts for Everyone of Lanham, a group that uses both deaf and hearing actors in its theater productions.

McDaniel's two summer camps for the deaf offer master degree candidates in deaf education the opportunity to be evaluated on mock mini-lessons given to the children, Rust said.

Eighty-two percent of the graduate candidates are deaf, Rust said, and 18 percent hearing. The deaf education office also offers a minor in ASL and deaf studies.

About three deaf undergraduates attend the college, Rust said.

In genre literacy camp, a program that has taken place for several years, children work on their English reading and writing skills by trying to emulate the style of either a particular literary genre or author.

If genre camp focuses on English, Theater Alive focuses on expression through sign language, Rust said, as well as non-verbal communication without sign.

Being deaf can offer advantages to the young actors, said Pond.

"They're so much more visually attuned," she said. "They're perceptive. They don't miss a single eyebrow raised."

Facial expression is a very important communication tool to the deaf community, she said.

In one exercise, the four 9-year-olds, all Frederick residents and all students at Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick, passed an imaginary mask. The person holding the mask adopted an exaggerated facial expression.

It helps them understand character, Pond said.

Student Carey Ballard, who acted with deaf actors last year in a movie called "Dr. Hand," tossed his mask to Alexa Simmons, who made a scary face.

"I like acting and practicing theater," Simmons said in sign language.

During the class, Simmons acted out an evil clown's wife. Ballard used a chair to ward her off.

Make-believe, but convincingly rendered, punching followed.

"The two of you used stage combat techniques," Santimyer signed. "That's so awesome."

Santimyer, who attended Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, uses a mixture of sign and spoken language to communicate with the hearing.

Ponds and Santimyer worked together in an off-Broadway play, where Santimyer acted and Ponds was stage manager.

Deaf and hearing cultures are different, Santimyer said. She hopes people will be open-minded when they encounter a new culture.

Meanwhile, student Hakeem Schiller insisted he wants to be a shark when he grows up. Or maybe a snake.

Brett Sonnestrahl said his adult career goal was a secret but that he liked acting.

"I think acting is perfect," he signed. "We learn not to fight each other."

Reach staff writer Diane Reynolds at 410-857-7873 or

© 2006 Carroll County Times. All Rights Reserved