Julian play features multiple characters 'fingering around'

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By DREW CARTER

The lights go down in the Percy Julian Middle School auditorium, and actors take their places for the beginning of the second act of Mother Hicks, an upcoming CAST student production.

The main characters, Mother Hicks and Girl, are joined onstage by Tuc, silent, communicating only with his hands. Mother Hicks talks back, but Girl, new to the area, doesn't get it.

"You mean all that fingering around means things?" she asks Mother Hicks.

In this play, the actors won't be the only ones "fingering around." Four signers will interpret the entire spoken dialogue in a play that will use actors, an oral chorus to interpret Tuc's American Sign Language narration, and musicians onstage.

"I'm interested to see how all of these elements are going to come together," CAST Director Bill McGlynn said.

Production of the play is full of complexities: the signers need to memorize lines in order to simultaneously interpret them. Signers need to be near the characters they're interpreting, so people with hearing impairments don't have to look back and forth across the stage from the action to the interpreter.

Musicians?#34;some Julian students, others from Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music?#34;will be onstage to perform Depression-era music.

Also, the play is double-cast. Except for Tuc, played by eighth-grader Alex Kent, each character will be played by a different student for the upcoming performances. When the students aren't playing their roles, they serve in a Greek-style chorus that orally narrates the play in interpretation of Tuc's signing.

Kent said learning to sign has been a challenge. He said he got into acting after a long history of doing funny character voices around family and friends. And McGlynn said Kent continues to struggle with speaking with his hands, and not his mouth.

The experience has given Kent respect for people with hearing impairment. "It makes you feel different?#34;in good and bad ways," he said. "It's one of the most difficult things I've ever done."

A middle-school-aged deaf student will attend rehearsal tomorrow, serving as consultant for Kent's signing, and will advise on how Tuc might sign differently being a young man, McGlynn said.

The sign language interpreters work with the production every day. The four interpreters are students at Harper College and need 100 hours to fulfill graduation and certification requirements, and donate their services.

Interpreter Pat Dragisic heard about the opportunity from Lynn Allen, the district's director of multicultural education. Dragisic said it was a "different" way for students to get their 100 hours. Other assignments might include interpreting lectures for college students, religious ceremonies or even tax preparers.

McGlynn said Mother Hicks is an "ideal" play for CAST, Julian's communicative arts program. Set in the Great Depression, it has elements of history, "inclusion of the differently abled," and shows "the bankruptcy of stereotypes as means of judging people," McGlynn said.

The playwright, Suzan Zeder, makes the characters earn success; nothing comes easy to them. That's important, McGlynn said, because "a lot of kids are waiting around for things to happen."

He said he hopes the actors and audience members?#34;who are mostly families with school-aged kids?#34;come away with "understand[ing] that if you apply yourself you can overcome your fears, and that all persons have value."

Mother Hicks runs two nights starting Friday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. The second performance will cap Julian's Art Festival, which starts at 4 p.m. and features artwork and student music groups. The Old Town band begins onstage at 7 p.m., with the Mother Hicks curtain being drawn at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5, except for current and past students wearing their CAST T-shirts, who get in free. Call Kathy Simon for tickets at 524-7848.
Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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