A bright new day for Sunshine 2.0

NTID theater group seeing a resurgence




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Mark Benjamin

Sunshine 2.0 cast members, from left, Kristina Garcia-Santiago, Katie Mueller and Ronnie Bradley, continue the tradition of the original traveling performance.

RIT/NTID alumnus Fred Michael Beam finds connections where others may not. As coordinator of RIT/NTID’s traveling performance troupe Sunshine 2.0, Beam connects performing arts and science, technology, engineering and math— or STEM—themes, for deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing children and adults around the country.

Sunshine 2.0 is a reboot of Sunshine Too, created in 1980. During its 19 years, Sunshine Too visited 48 states and numerous countries, providing more than 12,500 performances for more than 1.3 million people.

Beam brings a global perspective to Sunshine 2.0, having worked with a variety of dance companies around the world. For his work with the Deaf community, Beam was chosen as one of Essence magazine’s Real Men of the Year, and has been DEAF LIFE magazine’s Deaf Person of the Month.

“I was working in public schools in the Washington, D.C., area when I first saw Sunshine Too perform. I never thought that one day I would be re-establishing it.”

The cast of Sunshine 2.0 is three experienced performers: Ronnie Bradley is a deaf actor and dancer from Washington, D.C.; Kristina Garcia-Santiago, who is hard-of-hearing, graduated from Florida School for the Arts; and Katie Mueller who is hearing, is from Rochester and has a BFA in performance from Emerson College in Boston. The trio incorporates sign language and speech to ensure that all audiences can access the performances.

As coordinator, Beam develops the themes, scripts and travel schedules. “We are focused on the theme of bullying, an important and relatable topic,” he said. “There is acting and poetry, written by deaf poets, spoken and sign language, dance and movement. ”

For Beam, coordinating a performing arts program that incorporates deafness and STEM themes is a perfect fit—he earned his degree at RIT/NTID in engineering technology and was introduced to the performing arts. “It feels like this job was made for me,” he said.

Beam was first exposed to theater at NTID, having been asked to join the dance troupe in part because of his moves on the RIT basketball court.

“The dance teacher was watching a game and asked me to join his class. I then got involved in theater at NTID and graduated with a rich theater experience.”

Beam’s depth of experience as a performer, coordinator and member of the Deaf community are assets as he looks to grow Sunshine 2.0.

“This program can reach so many students with its messages of hope and inclusion,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “We are fortunate to have Fred ‘back home’ at NTID leading the resurgence of Sunshine 2.0.”

Note: Video available for this story