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High school play reaches out to deaf community

By Carole Mikita  |  Posted Feb 24th, 2011 @ 9:23pm

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RIVERTON — It’s not unusual for Riverton High School theater instructor Clin Eaton to chose a drama for his students to perform, but when he decided on “The Miracle Worker” — based on Keller's biography — he inspired a colleague to pursue her passion.

Sarah Giorgis-Pratt teaches American Sign Language. While the student actors rehearsed their roles, her ASL students learned the lines and accompanying signs.

“We also want the hearing communities to know, this is a language that has history, it has culture, it has grammar, it has syntax. ... You can communicate with your hands,” Giorgis-Pratt told students before a run through.

I want them to know how important it is for equal access -- that we need to fight social injustices and that we need to make all things available.

–Sarah Giorgis-Pratt

As a young theater student, Giorgis-Pratt watched interpreters at her school productions. Taken with the beauty of the language, she switched majors to deaf studies and suddenly, this year, the perfect opportunity arose.

“I want my students to know how important it is for equal access," she said. "That we need to fight social injustices and that we need to make all things available. Maybe we can kind of start a wave, where other schools are going to be providing this service for the deaf community.”

She found complete acceptance in Eaton.

"I said, 'Here's the script, knock yourself out, you're welcome to come to any rehearsals you want to come to and see what we're doing and we'd love to have you,'" Eaton said. "I'm excited, especially for the Friday night performance, having another layer of watching the interpreters because that's almost a secondary performance that adds so much more to the performances of Helen and Annie and the whole topic of language and what language really means and the great message the playwrights put in this show.”

The deaf deserve everything that the hearing have and it's a great opportunity to be able to show that to them.

–Kylee Craven

The teachers have contacted other high schools with ASL classes and colleges that have students who are deaf, plus the Utah Association for the Deaf to come to Friday night’s performance. Eaton said, “I really hope the deaf community comes out and that we do justice to the story and that they enjoy the performance.”

Daniel Roberts is one of the ASL student interpreters. “It’s an amazing opportunity for us to be able to come here and translate this play. It's just a great experience to learn the deaf culture and their community and everything about it, it's great,” he said.

“The deaf deserve everything that the hearing have, and it's a great opportunity to be able to show that to them," his classmate Kylee Craven said. “It's pretty challenging, but it's a lot of fun and it has taught our whole class a lot.”

Just performing the lead roles has given the actresses renewed appreciation for the real women.     

Elizabeth Freeman portrays Helen Keller. “She's incredible, she's so intelligent. I don't know how she was able to connect like that, progress so much throughout her life and touch so many lives. That I have the opportunity to portray such an amazing woman, is really cool,” she said.

Ann Lopez plays Annie Sullivan. “She's a perfect example of a strong woman, persistent, she never gave up on Helen. She's just amazing and I love that about her.”

And when asked about performing for members of the deaf community, Ann said, “It's amazing that we can give something to them. To open this up to them, not very many people do that and I think it's cool that we can do that.”

Elizabeth agreed. “I don't understand what they go through, but I just try to give them something to inspire them, to inspire anybody really.”

Just as the initial panic of Helen Keller’s parents, when they discovered her disabilities, was replaced by hope, so, too, have the young actors and interpreters realized that their initial concerns about a first-of-its-kind production have brought them together. And  their hard work will reach far behind their heart-felt production in Riverton High School’s auditorium.

The public performance of “The Miracle Worker” is Friday night at 7 p.m. at Riverton High School, 12476 S. 2700 West. Tickets are $7 for adults, $6 for students.



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