Magic that’s accessible for all

whale

One of last year’s stories incorporated whale sounds. The whale passed through the audience, allowing them to touch its barnacles and feel the texture of its skin.

Our Stories that Soar! ensemble is known for bringing children’s original stories to life onstage through performances full of color, music, sound and spectacle. But how do they capture the power and beauty of children’s stories when both the young authors and the audience are visually and/or hearing impaired?

For the fifth year, Stories that Soar! is rising to the challenge. Through creative use of touch, smell, sight and sound, they will present a multisensory experience that is engaging and accessible for all at 3:30 p.m. January 22 at the Arizona State School for the Deaf and the Blind’s Berger Performing Arts Center in Tucson. The performance is free and open to the public.

“As we know the cultures better, we’re more in tune with how to tell these stories in more creative ways,” said Artistic Director Sharon O’Brien. “It takes more time to tell a story when you have to shift focus between sound and action, so our pacing is different, but the results are rich.”

As with all their school residencies, the magic began with an appearance at the school by the hungry Magic Box, which encouraged ASDB students (from kindergarten through high school and ranging from low vision or hearing to fully deaf and/or blind) to “feed me stories!” After all the stories were submitted and read, the ensemble of professional actors got to work turning selected stories into a live performance.

While the stories’ themes were no different than those written by other young people, their styles certainly were.

Some of the blind students’ stories were very sensory-rich, playing with sounds and using descriptive language and poetry.

For the deaf students, writing was more of a challenge. English is not their first language – American Sign Language is. Like other students learning a new language, the Stories that Soar! model, which invites children to write about anything they choose, encourages them to be creative and to learn to love writing.

This year, the deaf students are writing as many stories as the other students. “They’ve really come on board,” O’Brien says.

Their submissions can be very tactile, including DVDs and sculptures. One deaf student submitted two handmade masks to help tell his story.

Although most STS! shows are signed for the hearing impaired, this show fully integrates signing into the action onstage. Actor Luisray Aguilar, now in his second year as a cast member, is deaf and a graduate of ASDB. Two other cast members are trained in ASL.

Every rehearsal required the assistance of two volunteers from Pima Community College’s ASL program. Though the students are not certified yet to sign the show, the got needed experience and provided invaluable help enabling all of the actors to fully participate in the collaborative process of creating this show.

O’Brien encourages the community to attend on Thursday afternoon. As always, STS! shows are meaningful to the young authors who see their ideas and words spring to life. But this unique show is also a cross-cultural opportunity for the general public to better understand our deaf and blind community.

“It’s a real gift to be able to share in their creative learning process,” O’Brien says. “It gives us a genuine glimpse in to these children’s multifaceted worlds and the joy they take in life.”

The ASDB show has been underwritten by the Arizona Blind and Deaf Children’s Foundation, with continued support from Pima County District 5.

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