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Utah youths can't hear Shakespeare, but see his genius

Published October 9, 2011 5:41 pm

Education • Deaf students among thousands competing in Cedar City.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cedar City • A group of deaf high school students may not have been able to hear the genius of William Shakespeare at a competition here last week, but they could still see it and act it.

The students from the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind joined 3,000 others from six other states in the 35th annual High School Shakespeare Competition put on by the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

The deaf actors, along with one competing in the competition's technical side, such as lighting, traveled to Cedar City with students from Skyline High School, where they also take classes.

During a scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," three of the competing deaf students acted while an interpreter off to the side voiced what the actors were signing.

"Shakespeare translates well because there is so much imagery," said Sarah Leathers, drama teacher at the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

She said being deaf can almost be an asset when it comes to acting.

"The deaf students have a bit of an advantage when it comes to acting because they use their faces and bodies so much anyway to help communicate," she said. "They are not inhibited and it is natural for them to be very expressive."

Leathers said this is the first time students from the school have been to the competition and hope to return in the future.

Courtney Jensen, the theater teacher and drama coach at Skyline, said her students were excited about traveling with the deaf group; some of her students interpreted and read what the deaf actors expressed through sign language.

"They [students] were excited about combining with the deaf students and incorporating their talents into a scene," she said.

Michael Bahr, who runs the competition as the festival's education director, also said the imagery used by Shakespeare makes his works accessible to the deaf. A theater in New York recently performed a play using deaf actors and a Shakespeare festival in Oregon has accommodated deaf actors.

He said this year was the largest competition ever, with students of the Bard's plays coming from 110 schools and as far away as Milwaukee.

"The competition has multiple purposes by giving the students a chance take a work of Shakespeare's and discover their own interpretations and performances," he said.

Sarah Kerr, a Wasatch Academy student in the competition who performed a scene from "Much Ado About Nothing," said she was excited to have her work professionally critiqued.

"I wanted to do the competition because I love Shakespeare," she said. "His language is beautiful ... very poetic."

mhavnes@sltrib.com