Here's the first entry in the new series of postings In the Spotlight where an organization or event will be reflected upon. First up is Centerlight Theatre, a project under the International Center on Deafness and the Arts banner. The organization based in the northwest suburb of Chicago in Northbrook, Illinois is where I got my start in the theatre arts - and as I mentioned in an earlier posting, the Academy-Award winning actress (and former Dancing with the Stars contender) Marlee Matlin did as well. There must be something in the water in Chicagoland to produce such a rich crop of Deaf artists!
The organization consists of several programs including the renowed Centerlight Theatre where shows are put on simultaneously in sign and voice (namely musicals); Story-N-Sign, Traveling Hands Troupe, Icodance, International Creative Arts Camp and the traveling Museum on Deafness. For more information regarding a particular program, please visit the website at www.icodaarts.org .
The following video showcases the programs and success of the organization:
Watch on YouTube
To see what Marlee Matlin has to share about her experiences at ICODA as a youth, please watch the following video:
Watch on YouTube
My start with this amazing organization came at age six when my grandmother mentioned it to my mother. We trooped out to see a production of Bye Bye Birdie put on by the teenagers and adults. I still remember sitting on the floor (adults sat in chairs but us kids sat up front on the floor for the best view) and gawking up at the actors who I couldn't believe were Deaf and Hard of Hearing. There was a misconception amongst deaf youngsters back then that when they turned 18 and 'grew up' they would become hearing - or die. This debunked the 'myth' since the original belief formed when we really didn't have much exposure to Deaf adults - and successful ones at that. So seeing Deaf teenagers and adults put on a show - let alone a musical - was mind-boggling. I wanted to be part of it.
(Flashback: as I saw the latest ASL Films production of Versa Effect, I recongized the principal as the actor who played Mr. McAfee all those years back in Bye Bye Birdie! Dug out my box of old Playbills and programmes to make sure : )
Enter Youth Fine Arts Day where I participated in a full day of arts and crafts amongst other Deaf and Hard of Hearing youngsters. What I remember most vividly about this day was the talent showcase where I performed "Do-Re-Mi" from the musical The Sound of Music. Here is a picture of me signing 'name' as in "Mi (me), a name I call myself":
(Please disregard the horrible "stylish" fashion that was all the rage in the mid-1990s. A time capsule portrait, indeed.)
Soon after, the center put on a production of Alice in Wonderland and I auditioned for the show. I knew I didn't want to be Alice (after all, she was blonde... and a bit lost. : ) The character of the Caterpillar seemed a better match - I was quite the bookworm back then and the prospect of reading onstage while in character was appealing. I got the character I wanted - but imagine my disappointment when the stage prop serving as the 'book' wouldn't open! There went my chance of secret-reading on stage while ignoring Alice's pleas for help navigating Wonderland. Here's a picture of myself with some of my fellow castmates:
My mother made my lovely costume and I still have the leftover scraps of the fabric used to tuck away in my memory box. I wonder if the original costume is still in the costume archives at ICODA? Perhaps I should ask...
What has ICODA done for myself? I stand by what I mentioned in this article, Champion for Deaf Children: "Alumni include Kaitlyn Mielke, 25, who credits her stage experience for transforming her from 'a shy child who simply nodded yes or no to everything, to a full-emerged drama queen.'
'I became more confident in myself, in school, in life, at work - everywhere,' says Mielke, a student at the University of Minnesota and Miss Deaf Minnesota."
In short, ICODA and the folks involved helped pave a path in many disciplines, not only the theatre and the arts, but in self esteem, in confidence, communication as well. Echoing Marlee Matlin's words, "if it weren't for ICODA, I wouldn't be where I am today."
If you're in the area, be sure to stop by and catch a performance of Into the Woods, playing Dec. 2nd-18th at the beloved Black Box Theatre at the center! To the actors and crew involved - break a finger : )