Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WFT Actor: Jessica Ayer in Shrek the Musical

"I remember seeing WFT's production of The Sound of Music with Angela Williams as Maria. This particular show stood out for me because it was my first time seeing a show with non-traditional casting. Before this, I had thought that if the original character was white, then you had to be white and if the original was black, then you had to be black. Being a mixed girl, that did not leave me with many options. So this show truly made me feel like I could do anything. 

I started at Wheelock when I was 6 years old with their summer acting classes. Being the overly-dramatic, high-energy child I was, I automatically fell in love. I remember the teachers made it so much fun that I never wanted to go home. Since then WFT has taught me so many important lessons that I will never forget, the most prominent of which is to never give up. During middle school I dealt with a lot of disappointment during school shows and began to think that acting was not for me. I decided to give it one last shot when I heard that WFT was going to produce Hairspray. As soon as I walked into the first rehearsal I realized why I had fallen in love with WFT and acting so many years before. Everyone was so kind and helpful throughout the whole process. I felt like my 6 year old self again, excited to perform and never wanting to leave a show because WFT felt like home. 

WFT is inspirational - from their non-traditional casting to their ASL performances and affordable prices, there is absolutely no other place like it. I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to grow up here and work with so many talented people. WFT will always hold a special place in my heart."

WHO is SHREK? Christopher Chew at the Wheelock Family Theatre

"Arts education is essential. There can really be no debate about the importance that the arts have on a civilization or more specifically a community. Education without significant contributions from the arts truly does not exist whether school systems and communities acknowledge that or not. The creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication fostered through arts education touches every other aspect of education more so than any other discipline. Wheelock Family Theater recognized that long before it became popular to talk about 21st Century Learning Skills or the 4 Cs of successful education. Their mission has been focused on transforming lives through exposure to live theater and education in the arts throughout their successful history. Wheelock Family Theatre has not only participated with the theater community at large in the creating art that transforms lives, WFT has nurtured and established an environment that has been transforming lives of countless individuals fortunate enough to walk through the doors and join this inclusive, wonderful family.

My entire professional career has been devoted to both education and theater. Whether I was teaching a theater course or not, my theater education has profoundly affected my perspective on how I work with students in all of my classes and now as a building principal. My acting career has always been affected by my perspective in education and the awareness of how our choices are perceived by others. My experiences here at WFT have allowed me to bring my entire experience with me to the storytelling craft more so than many of my other performing opportunities. I have treasured each and every aspect of my journey with WFT and value the rich tradition that it has and the magical impact it has on its audiences. It is an honor to be a part of that tradition and a privilege to be able to include my family in the larger Wheelock extended family. As a professional actor, there are not many opportunities to share the stage with my children and my daughter’s participation in this production has been a truly special experience that we will both always treasure. For that, we are both tremendously grateful to WFT and appreciate their contribution and commitment to the wonderful Boston Theater Community!"

Christopher returns to WFT having appeared in The Little Princess, Beauty and the Beast and The Sound of Music.

WFT Actors: Grace Brakeman in Shrek the Musical

"I have always loved coming to see shows at Wheelock Family Theatre since I was a little girl. But when I started taking summer classes and was cast in Ramona Quimby the next year, WFT became my second home. My relationships and experiences at Wheelock over the past ten years have allowed me to become friends with people of all backgrounds and views.
Wheelock is the only place I know of that is committed to excellent productions as well as inclusion and accessibility. In addition to presenting important stories in an engaging way, WFT is special to me because it fosters a nurturing, loving, and accepting atmosphere. I love getting to work together with a team of creative people with distinct perspectives. Just like the fairytale creatures in Shrek encourage each other to 'let their freak flags fly' and embrace their individuality, WFT celebrates people's differences and unique qualities that make them special.
Yet WFT does more than create a supportive environment: It has a progressive policy of non-traditional casting. Wheelock's dedication to color and ability blind casting has cultivated teams of incredibly talented and diverse people. Each child in the audience can be inspired by an actor that they personally identify with.
After closing Shrek (my tenth show at WFT) and moving to Chicago to study in the theatre major at Northwestern University next year, I will dearly miss my WFT 'cast families'. I am forever grateful for the opportunities and coaching at WFT and for Jane Staab, Sue Kosoff and all the wonderful people I have been lucky enough to know here."

WFT Actors: Lexi Ryan in Shrek the Musical


"My first experience with WFT came when I was ten years old, playing Cindy Lou Who in Seussical. I grew up on this stage. But more importantly, I grew up a part of this family. The people at WFT, from the directors to costume designers, from the crew to my fellow actors, are among the most caring, kind, and talented members of the theater community, and of the world. Nowhere have I found a more supportive, hardworking, and transformative group of people. 

A key theme of WFT that has stuck with me is the idea of storytelling. I have learned that that is an actor’s true craft. Wheelock brings stories to life in a very special way. Beyond colorful costumes and impressive high notes, the point of theater is to touch people through effective storytelling. Storytelling is a means of sharing experiences through bridging cultural divides. The best stories show how all humanity is connected. 

What is truly magical about Wheelock is that it brings positive messages to children through its incredible storytelling. Where adults may be judgmental, children are prejudice-free. WFT helps to cultivate acceptance in its audiences, from the youngest children to the oldest patrons. Children start colorblind. They accept WFT's colorful casting without a second thought. Children will view avant-garde art as fun rather than weird. As I've gotten older, I've realized that WFT creates family-friendly theater with a message, something young viewers won't even register at the time, but guides them to become better people as they grow older. Shrek marks my sixth show at WFT in seven years and perhaps the most fun of them all. Shrek is a delightfully whimsical story that will make children and adults alike laugh out loud, but it also teaches an important lesson, one near and dear to most in the theater community: be true to yourself and 'let your freak flag fly!'"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SHREK Theater Review by Anne Pieterse

“Your horny warts, your rosy wens,

Like slimy bogs and fusty fens,
Thrill me” –William Steig (from Shrek)

“Shrek” was the first, one of the many children’s picture books, artist William Steig wrote and illustrated. Then Shrek became a DreamWorks movie followed by a Broadway musical. And now tonight, “Shrek the Musical” is the final production of the Wheelock Family Theatre’s 34th season. And what a brilliant opening night performance it was. Directed by Shelly Bolman, choreographed by Patricia Manalo Bochnak, musical direction by Matthew Stern, and costume designer Charles G. Baldwin worked together to create a production filled with dazzling entertainment. There were dance numbers to get you stomping your feet, comedy for all ages, solo singing, and vibrant choral numbers, songs mixed with dance numbers, all tucked together with simple movable sets. Whether in book, film, or theatrical presentations, the story of Shrek remains the same. It is an ugly duckling tale (with a twist), an ogre named Shrek wants to be a left alone in his swap. Farquaad (the current ruler, but not yet King) is a self- impressed bully, who orders Shrek to rescue the princess Fiona so he can marry her and the become King. Battles with fire breathing dragons and “Donkey’s” wisdom, give heart to this endearing and satisfying story. The tale promotes diversity and encourages more than superficial thought when we are asked to consider what makes a princess and what characteristics her suitor should have. The story encourages us to celebrate who we are and how we do it. To look beyond the assumptions we make when judging ourselves and others.

Experienced talented actors, Christopher Chew (Shrek), Shonna Cirone (Fiona), Maurice Emmanuel Parent (Donkey), Mark Linehan (Farquaad), set the tone by their strong performances. The smaller characters roles of Young Shrek, Young and Teenage Fiona, Thelonius, Bishop, Mama Ogre, Papa Ogre, King Harold, and the Knights did superior work as well, often playing more than one part.

Shrek the Ogre just wants to be left alone in his swamp and has no interest in having fairytale trash living next to him. The “Fairytale Trash” community of creatures are easily recognized as the characters from Grimm’s fairytales, old cartoons, and Disney movies: Pinocchio, Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear, Fairy Godmother, Red Queen, Bluebird, Genie, Little Red Riding Hood, Chip, The Teacup from Beauty and the Beast, Ariel, The Three Blind Mice, The Three Little Pigs, Ugly Duckling, Queen Lillian, Wicked Witch, Captain Hook, Pied Piper, Big Bad Crossdressing Wolf, Ginny and Peter Pan. The costumes were made with bright dazzling colors that allowed the audience to easily recognize the familiar characters. And a variety of jokes are enhanced by the audiences past history and knowledge of fairytale creatures.

The live 8 man orchestra including keyboard, 2 reeds, trumpet, trombone, guitar, bass, and drums sat under the stage and was first-rate.

The use of puppets was captivating when eight puppet handlers maneuvered the dramatic giant Dragon that towered, twisted, and turned majestically over the stage. The handlers moved as one and actually danced with the flow of the Dragon’s swirling body from the fire coming out of her mouth to the tip of her long pointy tail. Hand puppets were used too. Funny scenes involving the torture of the Gingerbread Man were hilarious. The Gingerbread Man cookie puppet ends up shouting, “Eat me!” and the audience roared.

Young children in the audience seemed to be smitten and enthralled by the sparkles, glitter, and energy of the evening. Unobtrusive open captioned, by illuminated lighting on both sides of the stage, aided in the enjoyment for those hard of hearing and deaf. Each production offers final weekend performances that are interpreted in American Sign Language and audio-described for patrons who are blind, with Braille programs available upon request. All productions offer enhancements for patrons with cognitive disabilities or sensory sensitivities. Everyone should partake, and savor the fun in this delightful show.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

**AUDITION CALL FOR TEEN ACTORS 14-18**

Raising The Bar: Exploring The Actor's Process


TEEN ADVANCED PERFORMANCE INTENSIVE

Wheelock Family Theatre is holding auditions for teens with prior training and performance experience committed to deepening their acting skills and knowledge of the craft.  A limited number of admission slots are available on a rolling basis.  Those actors selected for this program will immerse themselves for two weeks in intensive advanced theatre training.

 Through challenging exercises and workshops in vocal, movement, and character work, and exploration of scenes from outstanding plays, students will experience the actor's process in-depth. This unique program culminates in a Showcase on our WFT Mainstage.

 

*PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS: *Specific Individualized Attention and Feedback -*Intensive Ensemble Training  -*Building Core Set of Acting Tools Vital To Every Actor’s Success-  *Breaking through Individual Acting barriers/Issues  -*Teen actors stretch and challenged to go out of their “comfort zone” to take acting to a higher level

 
*PROGRAM DATES: Aug 3 - Aug 14, 2015 (Mon.-Fri.)

Hours: 12:00-6:45pm 

Location: Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston

Main Stage Showcase: Friday, August 14 at 8:00pm.

 

*AUDITION DATES:

TUESDAY, APRIL 21  (4-7pm)

SUNDAY, APRIL 26   (1-4pm)

(Alternate audition times may be scheduled if necessary)

 

To schedule an audition, please email your arts resume and a note of interest to:  Fran Weinberg,  Director

WFT Teen Advanced Performance Intensive


 

*AUDITION REQUIREMENTS: Two contrasting monologues from plays, one comedy and one drama, totaling approximately three minutes. One of the two pieces should be from either: a classical play, any play that emphasizes heightened language, or a play written before 1960.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review by Kitty Drexel, New England Theatre Geek: The Taste of Sunrise


Inclusive and Intersectional: THE TASTE OF SUNRISE
photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
 (Boston, MA) In Susan Zeder’s The Taste of Sunrise, Tuc (Elbert Joseph) grows up poor, black and deaf in an ASL-ignorant hearing community in Ware, IL.  At the behest of the well-intentioned Dr. Graham (Donna Sorbello), Jonas Tucker (Cliff Odle) sends Tuc to a school for the deaf to learn how to speak. After years of social solitude, he finally meets kids just like him. They teach him sign; Tuc learns to communicate and to express himself. With help from friends Maizie (Amanda Collins) and Nell Hicks (Brittany Rolfs), discovers what it means to self-discover, to lose and then rebuild one’s identity.

Wheelock Theatre is no stranger to inclusivity. They routinely host performances for the hearing and visually impaired. Taste of Sunrise is told through spoken dialogue, ASL interpreters, and supertitles. Traditional actors are joined by ASL actors who sign the dialogue as the traditional actors speak. When appropriate, the supertitles are projected onto the stage above all of the action.  A delicate balance is struck as both types of actors share the stage to interpret Zeder’s play. Director’s Johnson and Lement have done an excellent job to gently conveying the great strides this production takes towards equality. This is an inclusive, intersectional production that encourages the hearing audience to learn from the performance. It warmly welcomes the members of the disabled community into the audience, whoever and however they are.

Elbert Joseph delivers a strikingly beautiful and sincere performance as Tuck. With simple movement and gesture, he was able to convey opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. He tells a spirited story with such warmth that it’s specific message instantly reaches across the divide to be universally appealing and inspiring. While the performances of the rest of the cast are excellent, this production would not be as great as it is without Joseph. It is his performance as Tuc that blends all of the separate elements into one successful production. He was a wonder to watch.

It is deeply satisfying to watch a performance that normalizes the experiences of the disabled. In a beautiful contrast, it outs the abled community’s behavior as strange and awkward when the two communities commune. In this production, when Tuc experiences hardships or trauma, it’s regularly because the hearing aren’t paying attention to Tuc’s needs. For example, Tuc is calmly hunting honey in Act 2 when a pair of hearing men see him covered in bees. They assume the worst, try to save him, but their involvement leads to Tuc’s serious injury. This episode is a brilliant metaphor for the abled community’s influence on the disabled community. Had they regarded Tuc’s behavior first or, heaven forbid, trusted Tuc’s experience, the bees wouldn’t have stung anyone.

There are dramatic moments in this production that some might find disturbing. In one scene, Tuc is bound to his hospital bed. Johnson and Lement make it abundantly clear to the audience that Joseph could break character and walk away at any moment. Rather, these scenes carry weight because of the emotional trauma Tuc experiences. Just as Tuc is casually stripped of his humanity in earlier scenes that depict him engaging the people of Ware, he is similarly but more traumatically stripped when he is bound by his hands to a bed by doctors. Tuc isn’t just restrained, his voice is silenced. The hearing community has denied Tuc agency and expression. It’s disturbing because it should be.

All of humanity shares an innate need to connect, to understand and to be understood. While The Taste of Sunrise is specifically about a deaf child learning to live in the world around him, it is also about Man’s need to self express in order to understand and be understood. It is a complicated production but Wheelock has divided its heavy material into bite sized, manageable chunks for viewers young and old to enjoy

 

Review by Jeremy Goodwin; Boston Globe: The Taste of Sunrise


An inclusive message from ‘The Taste of Sunrise’

Toward the very end of “The Taste of Sunrise,” there’s an emotionally eloquent argument between Amanda Collins’s Maizie, a teenage girl with a hard-luck life and Hollywood-inspired dreams, and Tuc, a deaf boy who has befriended her, played by Elbert Joseph, an actor who indeed happens to be deaf.

Maizie can hear just fine but was born to deaf parents, she explains, and she doesn’t want her children to be stuck between worlds like she was. With the aid of American Sign Language (ASL) and plenty of nonverbal communication, Tuc insists that she has a home in his hilltop shack.

Between these two actors and others onstage who unobtrusively interpret for them, the characters’ words are rendered in spoken English as well as ASL. In the swirl of emotion and the swift rat-a-tat-tat of their exchange, it’s almost hard to tell where one language ends and the other begins. They’re all just different voices, different parts of the same story.

It’s in moments like these that this production of Suzan Zeder’s play at Wheelock Family Theatre finds its energetic stride, depicting people in trying circumstances looking for some sort of connection in a world that seems bent on keeping them isolated. If parts of this earnest play, intended for young audiences as well as adults, feel a bit like a nutritious serving of theatrical vegetables rather than a compelling drama, it’s a modest price to pay.

Joseph didn’t start acting until he felt inspired, as a 12-year old, by a production of “Peter Pan” at the Wheelock. His performance as the centerpiece of “The Taste of Sunrise” is sandwiched between turns as the same character in “Mother Hicks” (at the Paramount last month) and “The Edge of Peace,” which opens at Central Square Theater on April 3.

Zeder’s trilogy deals with the evolving state of the deaf experience in America, as seen through the doings in and around Ware, Ill., before, during, and after the Great Depression. This trio of productions is billed as the first time the plays have been mounted in consecutive fashion in (more or less) the same city.

Joseph plays Tuc as a large-hearted simpleton prone to big emotions and forceful mood swings — here he’s terrified, there he’s bursting with anticipation. For all its lack of verbal speech, it’s a very loud performance, suggesting the sublimated frustration of a young man who is frequently silenced. Sure, I would have preferred more nuance, but the many children in the audience at a Saturday matinee seemed to follow everything just fine, and that seems closer to the point.

Co-directors Kristin Johnson and Wendy Lement weave some wonderful moments of understated poetry into a story that otherwise works in broad strokes. The depiction of children being struck by scarlet fever, and, later, of one character’s death, go far with simple props and graceful movement. When Tuc physically leans on the memory of a departed family member in the second act, the visual metaphor is easy for all to grasp, yet quietly pretty.

Costumed onstage interpreters perform much more than a purely functional purpose. They are parallel manifestations of each character’s inner life, and move within the action with grace and wit. (Line by line, the play’s text is also projected at the rear of the stage.) Long gone, Johnson and Lement seem to say, is the sole ASL interpreter relegated to a little oval in the corner of a television screen — or wearing street clothes, bathed in a footlight, at the front of the stage. (In a post-show audience talkback, Zeder said this is the most “inclusive” production of the play she has seen.)

Janie E. Howland’s set and Lisa Simpson’s costumes evoke the Depression, though there’s a notable shortage of the dirt and grime we might expect on a farm or among rural townsfolk who still mistake midwifery for witchcraft.

Though a group of young students from the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Allston prove a quite welcome addition to the ensemble, the play gathers momentum when it focuses on only a few characters’ stories in the second half. Brittany Rolfs brings a bemused swagger to Nell, the midwife whose fondness for singing to the gravely ill is mistaken as malevolent spell-casting; her efforts to lay aside her own grief do much to aid the show’s climax. As a very likable Maizie, Collins is both street-wise and naive. Cliff Odle projects warm-hearted gravitas as Tuc’s father. Ethan Hermanson is a steady anchor for the audience, as the narrating voice of Tuc.

The heavy-handed nature of this play is hinted at in its title. But with this production Wheelock offers a tasteful model for mixing together the deaf and the hearing — onstage, backstage, and in the audience — to create an entertainment that is coherent to each and panders to neither.


 

Review by Al Chase: The Taste of Sunrise


Some Things Are So Beautiful They Do Not Need Sound

photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

My heart is full and my head is spinning as I sit down to capture my thoughts and emotions after having attended the opening performance of "The Taste of Sunrise - Part Two of The Ware Trilogy" by Suzan Zeder.  This play serves as a prequel to "Mother Hicks," which was presented recently by Emerson Stage.  You may want to take a moment to read my review of that play using the link below.

In this play, the playwright fills in the back story of Tuc.  We learn how he became deaf after a bout with scarlet fever that almost took his life.  We learn of his struggles to communicate with his father, the mixed blessing of his years at the deaf school in Carbondale, and his return home to be with his dying father.  Wheelock Family Theatre is hosting the second segment of this World Premiere event - the first time that all three plays in the Ware Trilogy have been produced in the same city.  All three of the plays are performed bilingually in English and American Sign Language (ASL).

If this is Tuc's play, then it is also certainly Elbert Joseph's play.  He is the deaf actor who portrays Tuc. We see his words projected on the upstage wall, we hear his words being spoken by Ethan Hermanson and Cliff Odle, who also plays Tuc's father.  And Mr. Joseph conveys his words with ASL.  As effective as these triple means of communication may be, they are almost redundant.  For the actor's expressions and movement and stage presence are so compelling and so clear that there is never any doubt what thoughts and feelings and intentions he is radiating.  This is one of the finest performances by an actor I have seen on a Boston stage.

 Suzan Zeder has created something special in this trilogy.  At one level she is recounting the history of a particular community - Ware, Illinois.  At a more significant level, she is addressing the common human hunger for a sense of belonging to a community.  Tuc is the central figure desperately striving to connect and to fit in and to communicate, but there are many other characters in the trilogy whose longing is similar.  At another level, the plays recount the bumpy history of the efforts by the deaf community to define itself despite the well-meaning machinations of educators who "know what we are doing" who forbid the use of gestures or signs because they believed it would stand in the way of learning to read lips and express ideas orally.  At the end of the day, Tuc manages to create his own community - his own family, not bound by genetic ties or geographic propinquity, but forged by a mutual desire for meaningful connection and communication across formidable barriers.

At a crucial juncture near the end of the play, Tuc and Nell Hicks are thrown together and needing to depend upon one another.  But he is deaf and communicates in signs - what Nell calls "air pictures."  And Nell is hearing and does not understand Tuc's signs.  They reach out to one another and plead "Teach me - Teach me - Teach me!"  Nell screams the message in words; Tuc screams in gestures and signs.  And they begin to teach one another. As the level of their connection and communication deepens, Tuc asks Nell, "What does the sunrise sound like?"  Nell ruminates for a moment, and then responds with the answer: "Some things are so beautiful they do not need sound."

The same things must be said of Mr. Joseph's performance.  It was so beautiful that it did not need sound.

 In leaving my seat following the standing ovation and the deaf community's enthusiastic waving of hands to indicate applause, I found myself part of an instant community.  It was the community of those of us - dozens of men and women - who needed to pause, remove our glasses and wipe the tears from our eyes so that we could see to find our way out of the theater.

Go see this show and be moved as we were.

Review by Sheila Barth: The Taste of Sunrise


Emerson Stage, Central Square Theater and Wheelock Family Theatre have joined together to present author Suzan Zeder’s The Ware Trilogy. Although I missed Emerson Stage’s production of the first play, “Mother Hicks,” in February, I can’t imagine it could  surpass Wheelock’s sensitive, exquisite, poetic performance of “The Taste of Sunrise,” part II of Zeder’s dramatic triptych. The final play, “The Edge of Peace,” will be performed at Central Square Theater in April. They’re interconnected, but each play can stand on its own merit.

For the first time, Zeder’s trilogy is being produced sequentially in one area, enabling theatergoers to progress with the tale of Tuc, a deaf man, outcast Nell Hicks, and a foundling child, Girl.

Nell Hicks (Brittany Rolfs), a mysterious woman, cures with singing spells, herbs and potions. The Ware villagers think she’s a witch, because whomever she cures ends up afflicted or dead, they say.

In “The Taste of Sunrise,” directed by Wendy Lement and also Kristin Johnson, we progress with Tuc, from 1917 to 1928, from his infancy, becoming motherless, and being stricken deaf after a bout with scarlet fever, to his becoming an outcast; his experiences at a prestigious deaf school; loss of his father; and his return home.

Although you can’t tell, several ensemble actors, (along with a co-director, a co-assistant director, and the lighting designer) are Deaf. They blend beautifully with their hearing counterparts in this large cast, including popular Boston stars Cliff Odle, as Tuc’s loving father; Sirena Abalian, and Lewis D. Wheeler, portraying various roles and voices.

Amidst award-winning designer Janie E. Howland’s sun-drenched rustic background and set, the cast ensures every word is captured, with actor-narrators, sign interpreters, and the dialogue and stage direction beamed on the backdrop.

Roger J. Moore’s realistic sound effects and Annie Wiegand’s sensitive lighting capture changes in time, place and mood. Patricia Manalo Bocknak”s stunning choreography enhances dramatic scenes.

In the opening scene, we are engulfed in silence. Actors flutter their hands like birds, ripple them like running water, and wave like the wind. A lone narrator (Ethan Hermanson) speaks from the background, while upstage, Elbert Joseph, a superlative, deaf, Caribbean-American young actor, owns the spotlight, delivering a gut-wrenching, mesmerizing performance as the main character, “Tuc”.

Tuc’s frustration at people’s intolerance, misjudgment, and inability to understand him during his various stages, are disturbing, frightening, evoking our sympathy.

Dr. Alexis Graham, (Donna Sorbello), a well-intended teacher at the School for the Deaf, convinces Tuc’s loving father to let the boy leave his peaceful, verdant surroundings, where he communes with the wind, river, birds, bees, and all forms of nature, to attend the faraway residential school.

Watching Tuc’s fear, isolation and gloom dissipate when he meets Maizie, (Amanda Collins) a teen-age cleaning girl at the school, is heartwarming. Maizie can hear, but her parents are deaf, so she says she is, too, “inside”. She and her parents work menial jobs at the school, but starstruck Maizie loves movies, mentally mingling them with reality, and her hopes for the future.

Tuc’s joy reverberates while playacting with Maizie, fellow student Roscoe (superb Deaf actor Matthew J. Schwartz), and his Deaf classmates, until Superintendent Dr. Grindly Mann (Daniel Bolton) shatters their fun by admonishing then for using sign language instead of their words. He raps them on the hands with a ruler and imposes stricter discipline on a defiant Roscoe and the followers.

Nevertheless, Tuc flourishes at the school, learning to communicate with his peers. He eagerly returns home for the summer to demonstrate his new skills, but his enthusiasm dissipates- his father can’t understand him. Throughout Tuc and his father’s life changes, Cliff Odle as Jonas Tucker is deeply moving.

Tuc, Nell Hicks, Maizie, and Jonas Tucker’s disappointments and losses in their imperfect world are depressing, yet their journey promises hope, a touch- and taste- of sunrise at the end.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A YOUNG CODA ACTOR SHARES HER PERSPECTIVE

by Ingrid Jensen O’Dell

Ingrid Jensen O’Dell is an 8th grade student at Harborlight-Stoneridge Montessori School.  In The Taste of Sunrise Ingrid plays a student at the school Tuc attends. She is the daughter of WFT Inclusion Coordinator Kristin Johnson


Being in a unique show like The Taste of Sunrise is certainly an honor. As a Child of Deaf Adults, a CODA, I can relate to this play and some of its characters. One hearing character in the play, Maizie, is a CODA. In one scene she says that she can hear and speak, but she is Deaf inside. Being Deaf inside to me is having Deaf memories, having Deaf characteristics, or placing myself into the category of Deaf people. That is something that I can relate to very much.

My time is not spent entirely with Deaf people, or with hearing; half of my time I am with hearing people, and the other half I am with Deaf people. I am comfortable with that, because I can fit into hearing and Deaf culture as a whole. Maizie does not like being part of two worlds. She would rather be in one world, the hearing world. To me, it is not a scenario of two worlds; it is simply one world, with Deaf and hearing together. I feel that I am not part Deaf and part hearing, but a swirl of both. I cannot say that I would rather be Deaf or be hearing, because I am already both, and I will forever be both. In the past, when I have told someone that my parents are Deaf, that person would usually act surprised, but in a nice way. There have been a few people that have felt sorry for me, and would apologize for my having Deaf parents. When I heard what those few people said, I felt, in a way, insulted. Deaf parents are not inadequate, not in the slightest. If you discredit Deaf culture, you are doing so to me, and other CODAs.

Deaf and hearing people are basically the same, but there are some differences. Deaf people notice more things visually, because they cannot hear what is going on around them. Their loss of hearing enhances their other senses, like sight. Hearing people can see and hear, so these senses are about equal. I have characteristics of a Deaf person, for instance, the one I just described. When I am watching a movie in a theatre, I often feel lost and confused, because there are no captions. To get people’s attention, I tend to tap them on the shoulder or try to get their attention without speaking. I read quickly because I am used to reading the captions on television or movies, which shift very quickly.

There are a lot of bonuses with having Deaf parents. I can play loud music; they won’t complain. I can sing as loudly and as obnoxiously as I want; they won’t complain. I can pretend to be Deaf. I can convince people that I am. I can talk on the phone endlessly; they won’t get annoyed. I can listen to music on the radio in the car, and they won’t be bothered. Occasionally, my mother will put on her hearing aid and listen to the music as well. When I’m not sure if my mother has her hearing aid on, I shout or talk loudly to see if she will react. It often surprises me when she does react, because I’m not used to it.

There are some things that aren’t great, like when the batteries in the smoke alarm are low and I have to hunt all over the house to stop the beeping. When I’m in the car and the turn signal is on and beeping when it shouldn’t be, I tell my parent that it is on. When my dog is barking, or the microwave is making weird sounds, I tell my parents. I am not told to tell them when these things happen, but I tell them because it bothers me, or I feel that I need to inform them.

All in all, Deaf people and hearing people are the same, but different. I am a CODA, and I am proud to be one. There is nothing wrong with being Deaf, having Deaf parents, or even just knowing Deaf people. If I ever have children, I will keep them, unlike Maizie, and I will teach them sign language. I will never be able to ignore my Deaf self, not that I will ever want to. I am Deaf and hearing, and very proud to be both.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Can YOU taste the sunrise?



Wheelock Family Theatre (WFT) creates intergenerational and multicultural productions that provide a shared experience for the whole family.  We are devoted to the ideal of complete access. Our play selection, casting policy, affordable ticket prices, education programs, and access provisions for people with disabilities reflect an unwavering commitment to inclusive, community-based theatre. We believe theatre is a crucial element of human experience.  It is both a means of self-revelation and a basis for empathy with others; it inspires both individualism and responsibility through the giving and the receiving of human experience.  

WFT is one of the only theatres in America where you’ll find—in the same audience—toddlers, teen-agers, parents, and grandparents of different races, faiths, orientations, and cultures from both inner-city and suburban neighborhoods; people in wheelchairs; blind people with guide dogs; patrons who are Deaf; people who are both blind and deaf; families from homeless shelters; children and adults living with HIV/AIDS .  Many members of a typical WFT audience are attending theatre for the first time in their lives.  Over half a million people have enjoyed professional theatre at WFT since we opened in 1981.  No one has ever been turned away for lack of money.

Since our inception, WFT has interpreted every production in American Sign Language. WFT was the first theatre in New England to audio-describe productions and the first in Boston to open caption all performances.  WFT was instrumental in introducing these services and new technologies to other professional theatres in Boston. Our access efforts have been hailed by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Bay State Council of the Blind, and the Massachusetts State Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Access is not limited to our audiences—actors who are blind, deaf, and physically disabled have been given unprecedented performance opportunities on our stage.

WFT was one of the few theatres in America to offer a theatre education program for deaf teen-agers, receiving the Coming Up Taller Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.  From 1992 to1998, PAH! Deaf Youth Theatre provided creative and social learning opportunities for deaf teens.  In 2001 WFT produced “My Hands Remember”, an award-winning production about a Deaf holocaust survivor.  In 2003, WFT worked with The Learning Center for Deaf Children and the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on The Island Project, a multi-disciplinary program involving students, teachers, artists and theater professionals and developed the play, “A Nice Place to Live”, by Adrian Blue and Catherine Rush, about the history of Martha’s Vineyard and the manual language used by the population that was instrumental in the creation of ASL.  In 2004 WFT produced “Hey Sista, Welcome Home” by Aisha Knight Shaw, a deaf theatre artist.  In 2006 WFT produced Lisa Thorson’s “JazzArtSigns”, a production promoting universal access through music and painting.

And now in 2015, Wheelock Family Theatre is producing The Taste of Sunrise.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An Interview with Elbert Joseph (Tuc)

As a Deaf, Caribbean-American pre-teen passionately devoted to theatre and intent on making it his career, Elbert Joseph found his way to Wheelock Family Theatre.  He appeared with the cast of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp when he was twelve years old.  He also became the Theatre’s first Deaf ASL interpreter.  He trained as a member of WFT’s PAH! Deaf Youth Theatre and went on to appear on the Wheelock main stage in numerous productions, including in the lead role in E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, for which he earned an IRNE nomination (a Boston-based theatre award).

 
While a professor at Regis College, WFT Producer Wendy Lement cast Elbert in the lead role of Tuc in her production of Mother Hicks.  Coincidentally, just at this time Suzan Zeder’s prequel to Mother Hicks—The Taste of Sunrise—was released.  Zeder had written it in response to the flood of requests she received from people around the world who wanted to know more about the background of the three main characters.  Elbert approached WFT in hopes that the Theatre would produce it.  However, given the number of Deaf characters, and the associated cost of providing interpreter support for them, WFT was unable to produce the show at that time.  In the summer of 2013, Zeder’s long-awaited sequel to Mother Hicks, The Edge of Peace, was published, creating a trilogy of plays revolving around the character of Tuc.

 

Elbert is finally realizing his dream to revisit the character of Tuc, not only in WFT’s production of The Taste of Sunrise, but also—almost simultaneously—in the productions of Mother Hicks (at Emerson Stage) and The Edge of Peace (at Central Square Theater).

And, because of the 14 years that have passed since he first took on the role of Tuc, he is now closer to the actual age of the character.

When did you get interested in acting?

I started acting when I was twelve years old. My school always took trips to see Wheelock productions, even when I was younger. When I saw Peter Pan I knew something inside of me said “You’re an actor, you want to be on stage, to make changes in the future of theatre worlds -- diversity and inclusion! “

The teacher asked us to pick an actor from the play and be a pen pal. I didn't know who I wanted, but I thought the actor who played Smee was excellent.  I picked him, but it turned out to be “she”:  it was Jane Staab, founder, casting director, and actress at Wheelock Family Theatre.  She and I would write letters every week, until one day I told her I wanted to be on stage. She said the current production was already cast, but if I was planning to see any production soon to let her know.  I told her that the school and I were planning to see Tuck Everlasting.  I met her after show. She was in her costume.  She told me, “Why don't you come and audition for The Wizard of Oz?” I did, and got cast. At the audition, I had no idea about acting or how to audition. You know what is funny? Jane and I have same birthday!  After that, there is a magic........


What is your history with Suzan Zeder’s work?

I had no clue of who she was until I did the play Mother Hicks at Regis with Wendy (Lement), who directed that show.  It was a great experience because I fell in love with the play itself, involving a Deaf character that leads and tell a story.  I remember I wrote an email to Suzan Zeder, and told her how much I loved this play and hoped to meet her in person. I never thought it would be happening, that I would be meeting her....  It’s almost like she is this person I have been waiting to meet ever since I was young.  I am curious what she will think of our production and of me as Tuc.

What is it like playing the same character in three different plays over the course of a month?

All three plays are remarkably moving. They are such beautiful plays!  Every time I read all three plays, I cry and cry again. I see Tuc’s journey as transformative. I see myself like Tuc on certain levels – in terms of which community he really fit in, and how he fits in as a man differently than when he was a young man.  I really hope the audience will see through Tuc’s eyes and mind, feel his pain, his love, and his humanity.

What is your advice to a Deaf person who wants to become an actor?

Work hard.  Don't give up. Work with many Deaf and hearing actors and directors.  Learn their craft. Take some training. I encourage Deaf artists to write more plays about Deaf experience in the hearing world, families, and community; more Deaf artists to become directors, designers, and acting teachers in hearing theatres; to create more awareness and more opportunities for themselves in theatre.

Interview with Kristin Johnson, co-director The Taste of Sunrise


KRISTIN JOHNSON TALKS ABOUT INCLUSION AND CO-DIRECTING THE TASTE OF SUNRISE WITH WFT PRODUCER WENDY LEMENT

 
Having been born Deaf to hearing parents, WFT Inclusion Coordinator Kristin Johnson has a special perspective on accommodating people with disabilities or additional needs.  As co-director of The Taste of Sunrise she also has a unique take on aspects of the drama that focus on the hearing child of Deaf adults (CODA)—her daughter, Ingrid, is a CODA. (See Ingrid’s reflections later in this study guide.)

 
What do you do as Inclusion Coordinator?

Are you familiar with AD -  Audio Description? People who have any kind of visual limitations or are blind are able to come and listen to what is happening on stage, which is narrated to them by an AD team - this may include a description of the set, what the characters are wearing, what they look like, what they are doing. They can hear that through a headset so it does not interfere with the spoken dialogue. AD typically describes what is happening during some kind of down time on stage, filling in all of the gaps; it doesn't, of course, include the dialogue itself.  So the AD team typically will have a script ready and they will just read live to the people who are wearing the headsets. AD and the ASL team are very similar in what they have to do. They have to prepare their work well in advance to provide the accessibility.

The open caption system is very similar. Open captioning has to be preprogrammed in a computer.  The script that the actors are using is put into the system. They have a laptop set up that this program runs on. And the open caption operator (typically a Wheelock College student) will listen to the characters for their lines, and they will hit a button that lines up the captioning that shows up on the sides of the stage. And so they will time it up nicely.  It is not a live captioning system. The operator who is there sure is live, but they have input all the information beforehand.

Now with the ASL interpretation that is a live sign language performance, something they have practiced long in advance. The AD system as well is a live person reading their script, something they have prepared beforehand. Those three things are what I’m involved in coordinating.

 
Is this unique to Wheelock Family Theatre?

Yes. The services that WFT provide have been ongoing for 34 years.  They are very loyal and very committed to providing accessible theatre. All of the services that are included are very visible to everyone who comes. They aren’t hidden at the back of the house or the side, so everyone can see the accessibility we are providing. For The Taste of Sunrise we actually have our captioning system right there in the center of the stage, not off to the side.  The interpreters will be on stage with the actors. It’s wonderful. And Wendy has been so supportive of our services. She’s very involved in the inclusivity we provide. It’s just what we have been talking about – this one world of inclusion, of deafness, blindness, everything. Some other directors, other theatres really like to keep things separate. Not Wheelock.

 
Have you directed or co-directed a play before?

I direct my own ASL team. I have been the director of our ASL performers. But I have never been a director for the whole cast. But it’s truly an honor to be able to work with Wendy.  She is someone who has been mentoring me. And she is my ears in this, and I am her eyes. So it’s such a perfect combination of the two of us.

 
What sort of things will you do as a co-director of this production?

The set we are using is a raked stage. And we have both been really involved in trying to figure out what we are doing for specific trap doors. We are adding real dirt, gravel. We are using real water. We are trying to do something with a little bit of fire. As well as lighting design -- whether we need certain moments to be warm, cool. I’m also involved in designing what the actual rake will look like. Right now we’ve decided on wooden planks. There is a Deaf artist named James Castle. He was an artist during the Depression. We’ve taken a lot of his moods, his textures that he used back then, and we’ve really incorporated them into the show. It fits very nicely.

Also, we have been influenced by how Deaf people used to react during audiological exams. You know there is an old instrument called a tuning fork. A Deaf person would sit there and an audiologist would ring it and put it all over their head. And if it is your first time experiencing something like that it’s very traumatic.  Of course it’s something these people had to go through over and over again, with always the same result. They’re still Deaf at the end of the appointment. But these kinds of things are something that I, as a co-director, bring to the table, this bit of perspective that someone who is not Deaf would not have.

 
Were your parents Deaf or hearing?

Both of my parents were hearing. Ninety percent of Deaf people have hearing parents. Within that group of Deaf people, 10 percent will have Deaf children, but 90 percent will have hearing children. My own daughter is one of the 90 percent of the CODAs that you will see. It’s a misunderstanding that a Deaf person will always have a Deaf child. And really it’s such a small amount. Ten percent.

How does this play speak to you?

I’ve been working with Amanda Collins, who plays Maizie.  I love and hate this character Maizie.  I love her because she does so much for Tuc. And Tuc, he comes from a very clueless home with very limited communication and very little social background, whereas Maizie has access. She has access to movie palaces, she has access to the hearing world – everything that’s spoken – and she also has access to her parents through sign language, whereas Tuc has nothing, except communicating with the birds, the wind, and the water.  And having those two characters together, where Maizie introduces Tuc to the world—I’m so grateful for that in her character. Tuc does try to prove to Maizie that two worlds are OK. But it’s a pretty big conflict. So yes, Maizie is a young girl, she’s sixteen, and she has the mind of a child. I do understand her desire to experience the world before she is tied down with a baby.

And you have Tuc’s father, who winds up passing in the show. And that is something I’ve also experienced, that grief of losing a parent. And Tuc is put into the Deaf School, a whole new experience for him, which is something I experienced as well. When I was four years old I was put into a residential program where I slept overnight. So I have a lot of ties to all of these characters. I can relate to almost all of them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

PINOCCHIO reviews!

International Students of Wheelock College, saw and reviewed PINOCCHIO. I am posting 3 of them here... and they are a good read and an interesting perspective!

Christabelle Peter
The acting skills of everyone on stage are fantastic. They played their characters really good that you can tell each of their characteristics from the audience point of view. The caught my attention was the words they used like yen, beef stew, pachinko, and more. These words blends in Japanese setting till I feel like ordering a ramen from the stall. Addition to that, the dancing also caught my eye as the movement of the dancers remind me of a Japanese painting called “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” because they movement looks like a wave. Other than that, I also realized that the person who dances behind the Blue Fairy resembles her shadow.

From all the characters, my favourite is the snail that passes by at a certain time of the scene. It was confusing at first about its appearance but then I notice it represents the time that passed by. The snail also have its part when he told Pinocchio of Blue Fairy’s condition. My favourite scene is when the snail picks up its body like a dress and ran off immediately. It is not realistic like a real snail but the actor gave a humorous and playful scene to us as he was doing so.

Alaye Princewill
Compared to the Pinocchio I have read and watched when I was a child, the play was very similar and slightly different. It starts off with a man named Geppetto. When the gentle woodcarver Geppetto builds a puppet to be his son, a fairy brings the toy to life, the boy could move and talk its name was Pinocchio hopes to become a real boy someday. The fairy appointed a cricket to look over Pinocchio. But even with the help of his cricket friend who the fairy assigned to be his guide Pinocchio seemed to struggle and have problems. Instead of going to school he gets tricked by two puppeteers who lied that they could make him rich. He found and made a friend and they both were deceived and taken to toy land. Toy land is a place for lazy kids, they played all day and both won, after winning the next morning they started changing into donkeys gradually and eventually were sold. Pinocchio was swallowed by a whale, the same whale that swallowed his father eventually they got out. The blue fairy rewarded him by transforming him into a real boy.

I enjoyed watching the real play because it was very creative, it made me laugh that’s why I kept watching and it caught the eyes of the audience. The Pinocchio story tells you to go after your goals. The plot was perfect, the purpose of the play was delivered or transferred to the audience. I think the acting was played well, the way the characters displayed their behavior, dancing and following the rhythm of the music which was played at the right time.

Michael Ly
“Pinocchio” is a play about the love in family, between parents and children, the strong relationship in family. Pinocchio, the wooden boy, care about his father, he leave home to find gold. He meet and overcome many challenge, also, his father go very long way to find him. At last, they meet each other and together to overcome the last challenge. Finally, Pinocchio is became the real boy.

The light is suitable to the background or the main topic is going on in the state. The connecting between light and music caught customer’s attention. The changing of the background had the appearance of many people. But it did not make the viewer feel uncomfortable, they can feel more natural. The costumes were suitable with the character and the Japanese scene in the play.

In all characters, I like the snail. He is the symbols as the time go through, also, I think it is the symbol of trying. From the beginning, he went slow and moved the rock. To the end, the number of rock was more, this was the result for his trying. In addition to, the snail was also very fun, when someone caught his rock and Pinocchio told him to send mail, he ran very fast. That point made audience very fun.

Gareth
When I watching the comedy which called Pinocchio, I really pleasantly surprised about it because I had never seen a Western comedy has a lot of Eastern culture elements like Pinocchio.

As an oriental people, I am very glad to see that oriental and occidental cultures combined in this comedy: Kabuki and Peking opera are combined with a western fairy comedy and audiences do not feel strange. Several Japanese words spoken by the actors: Sushi, Yen…etc.

The props design and lighting are also very attractive. Pinocchio is a fairy comedy, so actors prepared lots of props which consist with the subject like scooter and fountain, these props can make audiences feel warm and attract their attention. Besides, the lighting also very fits with the plot of comedy.

Then, the most important thing is the story. Pinocchio is a very old story of European fairy, but we saw many Asian actors and African American actors perform in this comedy, I think it is prove the inclusiveness of American culture and convey love to all the audience. In this comedy, people can experience love, brave and friendly from this story and I believe it is the real meaning of this comedy.
 
Meng-wei Chen
Pinocchio just like us he did something wrong many times and finally he knows what is the right. He’s a regular adolescent trying to figure out how the world works and, more importantly, how he can navigate it. He is always shown the error of his ways and promises to change but he most often repeats the same mistakes. Experience is the best teacher. The best way to learn is to experience mistakes.
At some stage while growing up, children “challenge” the authority of their parents. In the story, Pinocchio always cries out for his father but he don’t know his father was do a lot for him. His father is really poor that he cannot grow up in the rich environment but he’d like to sale he only coat to get book for Pinocchio. He loves his father but maybe he don’t know how to use right way to expression in this stage.

Don’t be gullible. Pinocchio runs into the Cat and Fox. He thought they are his best friends, but the true is they just want his money. In this reality world, we can have many friends but not all friends are all true for you. However, we still need to trust if we are to develop meaning and lasting relationships with other people. In other words, don’t be too trusting.
Tell the truth. I thought that this was all about telling lies and regretting it because every time Pinocchio tells a lie, his nose grows longer.

Don’t give in to peer-pressure. We all want to fit in especially when we are ne to a certain environment. Pinocchio has resolved to himself to be a good boy and he goes back to school and studies diligently. But he saw the other kids were not going to school so he followed. Wrong move.
Pinocchio not just a story, I think the author want to expression some experience and through this story to tell reader which meaning inside.