Category Archives: performing arts

Spotlight on Kendall Charles of RIT/NTID’s ‘The Story of Beauty and the Beast’

Three performers in costumes, two at right and left indicating to the one in the center, a dark-skinned male. all are smiling.

Kendall Charles is a fourth-year computing and information technologies major from Opelousas, La., who is adopting the role of Beast in NTID’s production of The Story of Beauty and the Beast. Charles has enjoyed acting and theater since elementary school, but he didn’t start being consistently involved with theatrical productions until last year. Last year, he was featured in three productions through NTID: Fairytale CourtroomDanceTale and The Crucifer of Blood. In addition to his love for theater and dance, Charles enjoys playing volleyball and basketball and is involved with several organizations on campus. He is the copy interpreter for the NTID Student Assembly, works at the NTID Learning Center as the senior learning center assistant lead and is in the process of becoming a fraternity brother of Sigma Nu.

This production of NTID’s The Story of Beauty and the Beast is unique from other interpretations of the story. Instead of conveying the fairytale verbally, the cast will tell the classic love story through a variety of dance styles, sign language and other non-verbal expressions. The production premiered at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Robert F. Panara Theatre. There will be shows starting at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10, and Saturday, Nov 11, and one show starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12.

To purchase tickets for the event, go to https://rittickets.com/Online/default.asp.

Question: What brought you to RIT?
Answer: RIT perfectly embodied what type of college I was looking for. It covered all three of the things I was looking for when applying to schools. First, it’s a college that is outside of my home state of Louisiana. Second, it merged two different worlds together: the deaf world and the hearing world. The third is that RIT is well-known for my major, so it would look good if I got my degree from here.

Q: Have you always enjoyed acting and being on stage?
A: Yes, I have always enjoyed acting and being on stage. Acting and performing are like my comfort zone from reality, a place that I can escape to. It’s also a huge stress reliever when I’m on stage, so that is an added benefit.

Q: Beast is an iconic role; what was your reaction when you found out you got the part?
A: My reaction was a mixture of emotions. I was shocked, thrilled and, of course, nervous.

Q: Do you get along well with Belle and the rest of the cast?
A: Yes, I do get along well with everyone. Of course, every play has a little tension between the cast members because of all the stress we have about the show and our classes, but at the end of the day, we all get along. We want to make the play as successful as possible and make sure to work together so it will be great.

Q: Do you have any fun moments from rehearsals that you can share?
A: Oh yeah, definitely. At the start of every rehearsal we begin with a warm-up dance and exercise and that is really fun. We are allowed to dance any way we want to, so we can be silly or serious. The exercise gives us time to bond together. I also like that we all share our skills with each other to help each other improve. For example, someone might show someone else how they dance so that person can improve their dancing skills.

Q: Playing Beast typically involves wearing some extensive makeup and prosthetics, is it hard trying to work in such an elaborate costume?
A: You should come to the show and see the Beast costume yourself! I don’t want to spoil anything, but all I can say is that all of our costumes are actually lighter than most other Beauty and the Beast costumes. Because we are all dancers and need to move around a lot, the costumes needed to be flexible and easy for us to dance in. They are very cool and, thankfully, easier to move around in than you would think.

Q: Do you have any rituals or habits that help you prepare to perform?
A: Before rehearsals, I always do the warm-ups and exercises to get myself loose and ready to perform. I also review all the dances and lines before I show up to the rehearsal to make sure I’m prepared and hopefully won’t make any mistakes.

Q: What is your favorite part of the production as a whole?
A: It is a spectacle and a rich experience. I love building a bond with everyone involved with the production. I believe that having a bond with everyone involved with the production, from cast to tech crew, makes the distinction between an amazing production and a beyond-amazing production.

Q: What are your plans for after graduation?
A: I would like to eventually go back and get my master’s degree in business once I’m ready to start school again. Until then I want to find a good company to work at that understands my goals of eventually returning to school.

RIT/NTID Performing Arts presents dance and music adaptation of ‘The Story of Beauty and the Beast,’ Nov. 9–12

Dark skinned male in blue jacket with red trip hugs a medium skinned female in white dress.

The Performing Arts program at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will present a dance and music adaptation of The Story of Beauty and the Beast, conceived by Thomas Warfield, director of NTID’s dance department. The performance—an adaptation of the traditional fairy tale written in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve—will be performed at NTID’s Panara Theatre in Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9–11, and 2 p.m. Nov. 12. 

The show, co-directed and co-choreographed by Warfield and Nicole Hood-Cruz, tells the story of an arrogant young prince and his servants who fall under the spell of a wicked enchantress, turning the prince into a hideous beast until he learns to love and be loved in return. A spirited village girl, Belle, enters the beast’s castle in search of her father who has been imprisoned there and begins to draw the cold-hearted beast out of isolation with the help of the enchanted servants. The take is freshly told through non-verbal expressions in a variety of dance styles, sign language and melody.

“This uniquely creative production of The Story of Beauty and the Beast showcases the outstanding talent of RIT’s deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors and dancers,” said Warfield. “And while this ‘tale as old as time’ is one that many people are familiar with, the innovative fusion of dance and music is certain to mesmerize audiences, young and old. One of the underlying messages in our production is there’s beauty in our differences. Music and dance help to express and communicate that understanding for the deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing communities coming together to present this beautiful show.”

Tickets can be purchased through RIT University Arenas and are $5 for students, senior citizens and children; $10 for RIT faculty/staff/alumni; and $12 for everyone else. Tickets will also be sold at the door on performance days. For more information, call 585-475-4121.

A Bright New Day for Sunshine 2.0

One male actor and two females actors in robot costumes looking and laughing at a STEM tree

RIT/NTID alumnus Fred Michael Beam finds connections where others may not. As the 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 the Sunshine Too program that was created in 1980. During its 19-year history, Sunshine Too visited 48 states and numerous countries, providing more than 12,500 performances for more than 1.3 million people worldwide.

Beam brings a global perspective to Sunshine 2.0, having worked with a variety of dance companies, and has performed around the world.

For his outstanding work with the deaf community, Beam was chosen one of Essence magazine’s Real Men of the Year, and has been DEAF LIFE magazine’s Deaf Person of the Month.

“The vision of Sunshine 2.0 is to reach out to people and show them their commonality,” Beam said. “I’m interested in bridging the gap between communities and cultures.

“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.”

Sunshine 2.0 is made up of experienced performers Ronnie Bradley, a deaf actor and dancer from Washington, D.C., and Katie Mueller, who is hearing from Rochester and has a BFA in performance from Emerson College in Boston.

The troupe incorporates sign language and speech to ensure that all audiences can access the performances.

Sunshine 2.0 began this fall. As coordinator, Beam develops their themes, scripts and travel schedules.

“We are focused on the theme of bullying,” he said. “It’s an important and relatable topic. There is acting and poetry, written by deaf poets, spoken and sign language, dance and movement. Our ultimate goal is to share Sunshine 2.0 with the world.”

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 in 1985 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.”

Editor's note: Ivanna Genievsky from Frederick, Maryland,  has been added to the troupe since the printing of this article.

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All His World’s a Stage

For nearly 20 years, Joe Hamilton has been behind the scenes of more than 100 productions at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. But he’s not only behind the scenes, he and his theater practicum students have also designed and constructed those scenes.

Each year, 300 to 600 RIT/NTID students are involved in NTID Performing Arts, whether they perform, design and construct sets, paint, learn about lighting, apply theatrical make-up or work in the costume shop. About 20 or 30 students each semester work with Hamilton, spending much of their time measuring, hammering, drilling or painting in a workshop behind the Robert F. Panara Theatre.

Hamilton, a fourth-generation deaf individual who graduated from RIT/NTID in 1990 with a degree in manufacturing process, started work at NTID in 1996. As stage manager, he fulfills all technical director duties for NTID’s cultural and creative studies program, and this fall completed work on his 100th production. He keeps a log of notes from each production in his office, and when he can, he’ll slip the number of his current production into the set, such as “102” as the house number on a set during the NTID Holiday Show.

“I am a handyman. I enjoy building anything from blueprints,” Hamilton said. “I enjoy working with the students, and working with my hands, combining creativity, artistry and mechanics.”

Two of his most challenging productions were Peter Pan in 2002, in which characters had to go airborne, and The Diary of Anne Frank in 2001, where a 20-by-20-foot window was built and lifted in the air to reveal the characters who appeared to be hiding in a basement.

“He’s always finding a new solution and solving problems,” said Aaron Kelstone, program director for NTID’s Performing Arts. “I’m surprised how patient he is. He’s got 20 to 30 people all day around him asking him what’s next, and he has to make sure they aren’t getting hurt and aren’t doing something wrong.”

Chris Brucker, an architecture major from Schenectady, N.Y., joined Hamilton’s classes because he loved woodshop in high school.

“He is always very patient when it comes to teaching students who are inexperienced in woodshop,” Brucker said. “He always uses visual teaching instead of giving a lecture since the majority of deaf students depend on visual learning, so students always learn something new every day.”

Brucker said he learned skills in Hamilton’s shop that he’ll use after college. “I can remodel a house, fix electrical things, even build an entire house, and I owe it all to technical theater.”

Hamilton says making a difference in his students’ lives and seeing their work come to life on the stage is his main reward.

“I love working here,” Hamilton said. “It’s a very challenging job that keeps me going.”

Web extra

For a closer look at Joe Hamilton’s work, go to bit.ly/NTIDBackStage.

ASL Version of ‘Let It Go’ Featuring RIT/NTID Alumni Released

A music video of the popular “Let It Go” song, from the Disney movie Frozen, performed in American Sign Language with an all-deaf cast and crew has generated more than 43,000 views since its release less than 24 hours ago.

It stars two graduates from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf whose prior performances have been viewed by millions.

Amber Zion, ’04, an actress who signed the national anthem at last year’s Super Bowl, and Jason Listman, ’07 and ’09, an assistant professor who teaches American Sign Language to interpreting students at NTID, star in the video, which was directed by Jules Dameron.

“When I saw it for the first time, I was speechless and my jaw dropped the whole time,” Zion said. “It was beyond my expectations.”

The video, which RIT/NTID helped sponsor, involves other graduates of the university, including Jess Thurber, ’06, assistant producer; Ruan du Plessis, ’11, director of photography; and Erik Call, ’06, who worked behind the scenes.

The video is on the YouTube page of the Deaf Professional Arts Network, or D-PAN. The network was created by Sean Forbes, a 2008 RIT/NTID Applied Arts and Sciences graduate who performs in live shows and an array of music videos.

 “We are proud of the role a number of our talented alumni are playing in the rise in popularity of music videos in sign language,” said NTID President Gerry Buckley. “And we are pleased to support this video as a way to ensure that all audiences—deaf and hearing—get to enjoy the richness and beauty of signed expression.”

Disney authorized use of the song for the video, which was filmed over three days in September in Paso Robles, Calif., a community two hours north of Los Angeles.

“It was a phenomenal experience to work with a deaf crew, especially with Amber and Jules,” Listman said. “I think the song is perfect because it represents the value of social justice, the concept that everyone deserves equal opportunities in this society and can challenge the status quo. We should embrace ourselves and be true to ourselves. Let it go! This applies to a lot of deaf people with multiple identities, too.”

“Because the song has metaphors, it is nice to open your mind and translate that into ASL,” said Zion. “I love the challenges, to put all of my hard work into it.”

She said Disney released dozens of versions of “Let It Go” in various languages. “They haven’t done one in ASL. I really hope they would add this music video into their list.”

Forbes said he is happy to add the “Let It Go” video to his website. “I’ve always admired Jason and Amber’s work, shown their videos on D-PAN and am glad to see them working together on this project.”

The video is the latest of a series of music videos performed in sign language and posted on YouTube. The technology didn’t exist when Listman was growing up. He discovered music when he was 13, and has since posted five ASL music videos, generating more than 1 million views cumulatively. He says he’s happy there is an outlet that allows him to share his struggles and joys through translating songs into ASL, show others that songs can be translated in sign language and show hearing people that deaf people should be in the spotlight when it comes to signing songs in ASL.

“I hope this music video, with a deaf cast and crew, will open everyone’s mind to see that we can make this happen,” Zion said. “I also hope that this kind of exposure will help all other deaf performers/crews to get recognized.”

 “It makes me feel good,” Listman said. “I’m excited to know I inspire a lot of people out there, especially in the deaf community.”

View the video at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=g1HVoEW5s50

RIT/NTID-sponsored ASL Version of ‘Let It Go’ Featuring Alumni Released on Sunday

Two graduates from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf whose performances have been viewed by millions will star in an American Sign Language music video of the popular “Let It Go” song, from the Disney movie Frozen.

The video will be released Sunday, two days after an invitation-only screening and networking party Friday at the Complete Actors Place in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Starring in the video are Amber Zion, ’04, an actress who signed the national anthem at last year’s Super Bowl, and Jason Listman ’07,’09, an assistant professor who teaches American Sign Language to interpreting students at NTID. The video had an all-deaf crew, including noted film director Jules Dameron.

Other RIT/NTID graduates involved include Jess Thurber ’06, assistant producer; Ruan du Plessis ’11, director of photography; and Erik Call ’06, who worked behind the scenes.

The video is expected to be released at 11 a.m. (EST) Sunday on the YouTube page of the Deaf Professional Arts Network, or D-PAN. The network was created by Sean Forbes, a 2008 RIT/NTID Applied Arts and Sciences graduate who performs in live shows and an array of music videos.

“The rise in popularity of music videos in sign language is due in large measure to people like Jules, and RIT/NTID alumni Sean Forbes, Amber, Jason and all those who worked on this video,” said NTID President Gerry Buckley. “We are proud to help sponsor this video as a way to ensure that all audiences—deaf and hearing—get to enjoy the richness and beauty of signed expression.”

The video, which is co-sponsored by RIT/NTID and was approved by Disney, was filmed in September over three days in Paso Robles, Calif., a community two hours north of Los Angeles.

“It was a phenomenal experience to work with a deaf crew, especially with Amber and Jules,” Listman said. “I think the song is perfect because it represents the value of social justice, the concept that everyone deserves equal opportunities in this society and challenge the status quo. We should embrace ourselves and be true to ourselves. Let it go! This applies to a lot of deaf people with multiple identities too.”

“Because the song has metaphors, it is nice to open your mind and translate that into ASL,” said Zion. “I love the challenges, to put all of my hard work into it.”

She said Disney released 25 versions of “Let It Go” in various languages. “They haven’t done one in ASL. I really hope they would add this music video into their list.”

Forbes said he is happy to add the “Let It Go” video to his website. “I’ve always admired Jason and Amber’s work, shown their videos on D-PAN and am glad to see them working together on this project.”

The video is the latest of a series of music videos performed in sign language and posted on YouTube. The technology didn’t exist when Listman was growing up. He discovered music when he was 13, and has since posted five ASL music videos, generating more than 1 million views cumulatively. He says he’s happy there is an outlet that allows him to share his struggles and joys through translating songs into ASL, show others that songs can be translated in sign language and show hearing people that deaf people should be in the spotlight when it comes to signing songs in ASL.

“It makes me feel good,” Listman said. “I’m excited to know I inspire a lot of people out there, especially in the deaf community.”