Wednesday, February 23, 2011

International Center for Deafness and the Arts in Illinois produces "West Side Story" in ASL

From Karen Putz for Trib Local in Illinois:

For the last several months, my two teenagers have been making the 80 mile round trip to Northbrook, Ill., for play rehearsals. They would arrive home from school after Academic Bowl practice, grab dinner, and then hop in the car for the trek up north. Rehearsals sometimes finished as late as ten p.m. and they would finally fall asleep near midnight.

Some folks have asked me why in the world would I allow my kids to have such a crazy schedule and drive so far each day?

Because you see, my kids are deaf and hard of hearing. At the International Center for Deafness and the Arts (, they have the opportunity to spend time with other deaf and hard of hearing teens and to be part of a community that converses in American Sign Language.

The play, West Side Story opened on Friday, February 18 and will run until March 14. This play is performed in American Sign Language with voice narration.

Oscar-winning actress, Marlee Matlin, began her path to stardom at the same organization, performing as Dorothy in Wizard of Oz. Her original costume hangs on the center's wall, along with newspaper clippings that feature Marlee's career path.

My kids have no aspirations of Hollywood fame, but they are truly enjoying their experience with performing on stage and signing songs in American Sign Language. I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to watch their first show. I had never seen the movie, so I wasn't familiar with the story. My son (pictured) had the part of "Riff" and my daughter played "Rosalia." I knew that Riff's life would end in the play, but there's something disconcerting about seeing your child knifed off in a fight. For a moment there, I had to catch my breath and remind myself to stay in my seat– that motherly instinct wanted to march on stage and "save" my son. My daughter surprised me with her sass on stage and graceful dancing. It was like seeing a flower bloom right before me, in colors that I had never seen before.

As the last scene faded to darkness and the kids all took their bows, I realized that all of the late nights, the long drives and the endless rehearsals were worth it. The smiles on their faces: priceless.