Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deaf actor is a first for Bowie theater group

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While auditioning actors for the Bowie Theater Company's latest production, director Estelle Miller was impressed by the enthusiasm of a deaf actor named Gary Small.

Miller was so impressed by Small, in fact, that she created a role for him in the company's production of the Caroline Smith comedy "The Kitchen Witches," which it will present this month.

"He was determined enough not just to come once but to come twice to auditions," Miller said of Small, who is a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and a Bowie resident. "He is so sure of himself and so positive and so willing to learn … I'll work with anyone who has an attitude like Gary."

With that, Small became the first deaf actor to be cast in a Bowie Theater Company production.

His participation in the play has led to another first for the small community company — two of its five performances will be interpreted in their entirety for the deaf.

Cindy Garmoe, a friend of Small's, has volunteered to handle the interpreting.

Having an interpreter hopefully will allow the company to reach a new audience, said Janice Coffey, its president.

"Hopefully, we will get the deaf community to come out to see this," she added. "If it's successful we may consider doing it in the future."

Because the company is a nonprofit, it normally would not be able to afford to hire an interpreter — who charges fees of about $50 an hour — for its shows, Miller said. She added that she has never seen sign language interpretation done in a community theater production.

Small said he loves the idea that the deaf will be able to attend the play.

He became involved in theater at Eleanor Roosevelt last year when he helped in the production of Dean Pitchford's "Footloose." He thought it would be fun to express himself on stage, he said, adding that he hopes to pursue theater as a profession.

He has been inducted into Roosevelt's Thespian Honor Society, is a member of the school's improvisational comedy team and is the assistant scenic artist in the school's production of Neil Simon's "Rumors" this year.

He attended the Bowie Theater Company's auditions for "The Kitchen Witches" as a way to become more involved in theater.

The play chronicles the fallout between two rival cable-access cooking show hosts who get stuck working together on a new show. Small's role as a television cameraman keeps him onstage for a good portion of the play, but he has no speaking parts.

To assist Small in following his cues, Miller incorporated hand gestures into the other actors' parts.

Garmoe said she's worked as an interpreter with Small for five years.

A nearly two-hour-long production such as "The Kitchen Witches" normally would require two interpreters, but Garmoe has had no luck finding another interpreter to assist her, she said, adding that signing the play alone means she will have to memorize the entire script.

"Having deaf people be involved in things like this is a positive thing in the community," she said. "There are a lot of things they have access to, but if I can help more I'd like to be able to."

Sign language interpretations will be offered for "The Kitchen Witches" at the 8 p.m. performances on Saturday and Oct. 9 at the Bowie Playhouse, which is located at 6314 Crain Highway in Bowie.

Other performances will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Oct. 10. For more information, call 301-809-3078.