Category Archives: performing arts

Thousands expected to celebrate at RIT/NTID’s 50th anniversary reunion

NTID 50th Anniversary Reunion in brown with orange graphics representing buildings on campus.

More than 3,000 alumni from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf are expected to visit campus for a reunion June 28 –July 1 to celebrate the college’s 50th anniversary.

The world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students will kick off a year-long celebration of its 50-year history, which coincides with RIT’s move to the Henrietta, New York, campus.

The festivities will begin with an alumni golf tournament at Mill Creek Golf Club Thursday, June 28, with an opening ceremony that evening, hosted by alumnus and actor CJ Jones. Jones recently starred in the motion picture “Baby Driver” and will be featured in the upcoming James Cameron sequel, “Avatar 2.”

Other events and activities during the reunion weekend include a barbeque dinner, mini-reunions for current and former members of numerous clubs and organizations, including fraternities and sororities, and entertainment by popular alumni such as hip-hop artist Sean Forbes and actors Amber Zion, Kris Pumphrey and Daniel Durant, who most recently starred on Broadway in the revival of “Spring Awakening.”  

In addition to alumni from the college’s ‘pioneer’ class and founding faculty, four of RIT/NTID’s past leaders will be in attendance: founding director D. Robert Frisina; Robert Davila, the college’s first deaf leader; James J. DeCaro; and T. Alan Hurwitz. The college’s current leader, Gerard Buckley, is the first alumnus to lead the institution, which boasts more than 8,000 graduates.

The college’s Dyer Arts Center will host an exhibition “50 Artists, 50 Years” featuring works by 50 RIT/NTID alumni artists. The center will also host the unveiling of a three-paneled mural, known as a triptych, entitled “Together” created by deaf artist Susan Dupor and commissioned for the 50th anniversary.  “Together” portrays the flourishing life and history of the National Technical Institute of the Deaf over 50 years.

RIT/NTID Performing Arts and MSM Productions, Ltd. will reprise the popular “The Wonderful World of Oz” in the college’s Panara Theatre for four special performances with proceeds to benefit the theater program. Tickets can be purchased through the RIT Box Office.

Founded by an act of Congress in 1965, with the first class enrolled in 1968, NTID represents the first concerted effort to educate large numbers of deaf students within a college campus planned principally for hearing students. Among RIT's 18,000 full- and part-time students are nearly 1,100 deaf students from the United States and other countries.

Since its founding, alumni have gone on to work and leadership positions in all areas of business, industry, government and non-profit sectors.

“We are thrilled that so many alumni from near and far will be joining us to celebrate 50 years of RIT/NTID,” Buckley said. “We have a lot of great activities planned, but this reunion is really about old friends reminiscing and reflecting on how far we’ve come in just 50 short years.”

To commemorate the milestone, a book, “A Shining Beacon: Fifty Years of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf,” edited by RIT/NTID alumnus James K. McCarthy, has been published by RIT Press.

Editor’s note: Media is invited to attend RIT/NTID’s 50th Anniversary Reunion Opening Ceremony 6 p.m. Thursday, June 28, in the Gene Polisseni Center on the RIT campus.

Additional photos and video clips of RIT/NTID’s 50th Anniversary Reunion weekend can be made available to members of the media by contacting



Grand Experiment — Grand Success: 50 years later

Vintage photo of Harry Lang with two male students an an old computer.

Fifty years ago, 19-year-old Bill Ingraham was about to enter uncharted territory. 

After graduating from Brockport High School in upstate New York as its only deaf student, Ingraham had earned a hard-won associate degree in applied science/
business administration from Alfred State. 

“I knew that I wanted to earn my 
bachelor’s degree, but I also realized that in order to do that, I needed a lot of help,” said Ingraham, who had struggled academically at Alfred, relying heavily on his lip-reading skills and a roommate who shared class notes. 

Ingraham’s cousin told him that a new “program” was starting in the fall of 1968 at Rochester Institute of Technology and that 
he should consider applying for admission. 

Ingraham became one of 70 deaf pioneers of RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, the first-ever college uniquely designed to teach deaf and hard-of-hearing students the technical skills necessary for them to get quality jobs. NTID’s first director, D. Robert Frisina, called it the “Grand Experiment” to describe educating deaf students in a college setting with their hearing peers.

“The thing about NTID was that there was no model to follow,” Frisina has said. “This was a rare opportunity in the education of deaf people.”

Throughout the next 50 years, NTID would become a catalyst for diversity and 
inclusion on campus, creating a post­secondary learning environment never before seen in this country. With the emergence of more than 200 majors, research opportunities, 
doctoral degree readiness programming and a 94 percent career placement rate, the “Grand Experiment” is a grand success. 

History in the making

The story of RIT’s NTID began when the first permanent public school for deaf students in Hartford, Conn., opened in 1817. The school showed that deaf people could be academically successful.

According to Harry Lang, professor emeritus and co-author of "From Dream to Reality: The National Technical Institute for the Deaf, A College of Rochester Institute of Technology," while many residential schools continued to appear throughout the country, including Rochester’s own school for deaf students in 1876, a dedicated postsecondary school that focused on marketable technical skills remained a dream. 

In 1964, Congress was urged to study the educational and employment status of deaf people. One report suggested that about 80 percent of deaf adults were working in manual occupations, whereas only about 50 percent of the hearing population assumed those same types of positions. 

Shortly after, the House and Senate drafted bills recommending the establishment of a college tailored to the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing students pursuing technical careers. The legislation was passed in both the House and the Senate in a record-setting 47 days. 

On June 8, 1965, President Lyndon 
Baines Johnson signed Public Law 89-36, establishing the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. 

With the bill signed and plans for its execution moving quickly, more than two dozen universities across the country applied to establish the college on their campuses. 

However, with connections to industry and business, pre-established programs in many technical disciplines, a favorable relationship between Rochester industry and people with disabilities, and a steady stream of deaf students who had already enrolled in some existing RIT programs, particularly in the School of Printing and the School for American Craftsmen, RIT became a strong contender.

In July 1966, a site team visited RIT’s new 1,300-acre campus under construction in Henrietta. On Nov. 14 of that year, RIT was selected as the future home of NTID.

The strengths of this initiative would be a new, blended learning environment for the nation’s deaf students interested in technical careers and an enhanced learning environment for the university’s hearing population.

‘I was the first’

Ingraham visited campus the summer before NTID opened. He used lip reading to conduct an interview and then went on a tour. 

“They accepted me immediately,” Ingraham said. “I was the first.”

Ingraham knew that the eyes of the country—including the legislators and advocates who invested so much in this endeavor— would be trained on him, his classmates and Frisina, who was named director in 1967. 

Before NTID’s charter class arrived on campus, less than 1 percent of college-aged deaf people had enrolled in higher education. 

Ingraham remembers being excited for the opportunity to take his education further 
but was apprehensive at the same time. 
“I think we all felt that way.”

But after he met other students, including his deaf roommates from Pennsylvania and Florida, he felt more comfortable. 

Many deaf students were drawn to science, technology, engineering and math, based partly on the visual nature of the subject material, and RIT was well positioned to offer these programs to its deaf learners. 

Students could enroll in programs such 
as electrical and mechanical engineering, business administration, printing management and medical technology, and degrees ranging from two-year associate, to Master 
of Science and Master of Fine Arts degrees. Ingraham studied business administration.

“Many people don’t really realize how significant NTID was for opening doors and opening minds of the students who wanted to pursue STEM careers, and faculty, like myself, who taught in those disciplines,” said Lang, who taught at NTID for 41 years. 

But there were growing pains during those inaugural years. During the first year, RIT didn’t have full-time interpreters on staff, and only a few of the newly hired staff knew sign language. 

The deaf students and the other 10,000 hearing RIT students were hesitant to mingle with one another due to perceived communication barriers and a lack of understanding of Deaf culture. Despite the university’s efforts to reach out to deaf students, some, who were living on their own for the first time, dropped out due to social and academic challenges. 

“There was a definite sense of separation in the past,” explained Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean, and a 1978 alumnus of RIT’s social work program. “Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall, NTID’s academic building (which opened in 1974 but wasn’t named until 1979), was far away from what was perceived as the ‘main’ campus. Some hearing students would refer to us as ‘NIDS,’ National Institute of Deaf Students.”

But as the years progressed and the technology behind deaf education developed, 
the climate and attitudes changed.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, access to telephone services included experimental devices such as Codecom, which required knowledge of Morse code, and the “Vista Phone,” a video-telephone communication system that could only be used on campus. The Victor Electrowriters allowed deaf and hearing people to communicate by telephone through an electric stylus system. 

By the 1970s, the teletypewriter (TTY) made telephone communication much 
more accessible.

In 1968, captioning technology was not yet developed sufficiently. On-campus educational media was often interpreted for deaf students.

“I still have a video of myself teaching 
temperature and pressure in physics class with index cards and a video recorder,” 
Lang said. “That was my captioning during the early years.”

But by the late 1970s, NTID had become a national leader in educational program captioning, which helped deaf students become fully engaged with access to televised news, student information, announcements, academic course information and entertainment programming. 

Today, with automatic speech recognition, captioning and C-Print, a real-time speech-to-text system developed at the college, NTID remains a progressive leader in instructional and communicative technologies. 

RIT has the largest staff of professional sign language interpreters of any college program in the world. Last year, RIT provided more than 140,000 hours of interpreting services, which includes classroom interpreting as well as interpreting for non-academic pursuits such as athletic events, religious services, concerts, presentations and other student life activities. 

Trained student notetakers record information during classes or laboratory lectures, discussions or multimedia presentations. 
Last year, RIT provided more than 60,000 hours of notetaking services for students. Real-time captioning provides a compre­hensive English text display of classroom lectures and discussions.

“Coming to NTID is a real homecoming for many deaf and hard-of-hearing students,” Buckley said. “This is one of those places where you have the right to understand 
and be understood 100 percent of the time. Some students come here and aren’t even aware of how much they have been missing. Here, our students can fully participate in a college experience, both socially and academically.” 

Opportunities today

Grace Yukawa is an example of that. 
The fourth-year mechanical engineering student is an NTID student ambassador, member of a sorority and works for the College Activities Board.

In high school in Seattle, Yukawa was 
one of about 40 deaf students in a fully mainstreamed environment with 1,700 hearing classmates. She generally interacted with her close-knit group of deaf and hard-of-hearing peers. However, at NTID, she loves the enthusiasm of her hearing peers who are interested in learning more about Deaf culture. 

“NTID has helped me find myself,” Yukawa said. “Back home, I see the same people every day in our very small deaf community. Here at NTID, I meet so many new people, people with many different backgrounds—deaf people, hearing people, people who are late deafened, deaf people who sign, hearing people who sign, deaf people who are oral. 
I just knew that I wouldn’t be alone here, 
and that was just so important when I 
was selecting a college.” 

The reputation of RIT’s mechanical 
engineering program also played a role 
in Yukawa’s decision to enroll. 

“My major requires four co-ops, and if it wasn’t for the networking in the deaf community and using the resources that NTID has to offer, I don’t think I would have secured those on my own,” she said. “Many of the companies that I applied to were hoping to hire deaf people or people with other disabilities to broaden their scope. I wasn’t aware that 
those specific opportunities even existed.”

Out in the field, Yukawa has done research on 3D bioprinting and on children and adults living with disabilities. Her observation visits to preschools and rehabilitation centers have provided her with insights into cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders and people who use wheelchairs. She hopes to continue work on devices that can be designed to make it easier for these individuals to complete daily tasks. 

NTID actively sponsors and encourages research designed to enhance the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people. It is home to research centers that are dedicated to studying teaching and learning; communication; technology, access and support services; and employment and adaptability to social changes and the global workplace. 

Opportunities are available for under­graduate and graduate students to work directly with faculty, travel in support of 
their research and apply for research funding. 

The Rochester Bridges to the Doctorate program, a partnership between RIT and University of Rochester, is the first of its kind that provides scientific mentoring for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to become candidates for doctoral degree programs in biomedical or behavioral science disciplines. 

And Sebastian and Lenore Rosica Hall, the $8 million, state-of-the-art building that binds this all together, fosters innovation, entrepreneurship and research among deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing peers. 

Yukawa has one more year until graduation but is looking ahead to a career designing accessibility devices. 

She will join more than 8,500 deaf and hard-of-hearing NTID alumni living in all 
50 states and in 20 countries, and working 
in all economic sectors, including business and industry, health care, education and government.

“My hope is to one day be able to level 
the playing field for people living with 
disabilities,” she said.

Fifty years later

NTID has already helped level the playing field for many of its graduates.

“There is an evolution that we have 
witnessed over the past 50 years,” said 
John Macko, director of NTID’s Center 
on Employment. 

Fifty years ago, the Americans with 
Disabilities Act didn’t exist, and it was a 
new concept for employers to consider deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates as employees. It was more challenging for deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates to work alongside hearing coworkers.

“Years ago, deaf and hard-of-hearing people were office clerks, data entry specialists and computer operators,” Macko said. “Today, we’re accountants, network specialists, mechanical engineers, software engineers. 
Job titles have changed as a result of NTID.”

As a student, Ingraham excelled at tax 
accounting. His instructor, Bill Gasser, 
encouraged him to apply for a co-op with 
the Internal Revenue Service.

“He believed that I could do the job 
and had every confidence in my abilities. 
He always looked out for me in class; I’ll never forget him and what he did for me.”

After graduating in 1971, Ingraham was hired by the IRS and served as a revenue agent until his retirement 36 years later.

“I’m just amazed at what NTID has 
become,” Ingraham said. “I’m so happy 
that I had the chance to go there, and I’m so happy for the students who have the opportunity to go there now. NTID introduced me 
to how amazing the deaf world really is.”

He and his wife, Mary Jo (Nixon) Ingraham, remain connected to NTID, serving on committees and regularly attending campus events. Mary Jo graduated in 1972 and became the first NTID alumna hired on staff. 

Buckley, who was named NTID president in 2011 and is the first RIT/NTID alumnus to hold that position, said students today leave prepared for the real world, where there isn’t always sensitivity and inclusion. They leave understanding their rights and responsibilities, and they leave with the self-confidence to interact with hearing peers.

“As RIT and NTID prepare the next generation of leaders, I want them to walk away from this campus feeling that they were included. I want them to increase their earning potential and economic power,” Buckley said. “But it’s not just about money. It’s about the ways they can influence the world. In that way, we’ve truly fulfilled our mission.”

To learn more

For more details on the history of NTID and RIT, go to

50th reunion weekend

In celebration of NTID’s 50th anniversary, a reunion weekend June 28–July 1 will feature events and activities for alumni and families. Events include an opening ceremony, NTID Alumni Asso­ciation golf tournament, several theatrical productions, a “welcome home” celebration, NTID Alumni Museum preview, campus tours, reunion group photos, children’s activities and more. 

The reunion committee is also asking NTID community members to participate in the #NTID5for50 fundraising campaign, encouraging individuals to make gifts in dollar amounts beginning with a five.

To register for the reunion, go to

More history

A Shining Beacon: 50 Years of NTID will be available during the reunion weekend. The book includes chapters written by individuals who have witnessed change throughout the years at NTID, as well as by recent graduates looking forward 
to the next 50 years. 

The book also includes chapters on the introduction of American Sign Language on campus, the history of performing arts at NTID, the growth of STEM education, athletics and job placement.

Performing arts

NTID performing arts launched in 1974 after the success of a student drama club founded by Robert Panara, NTID’s first deaf faculty member and co-founder of the National Theater of the Deaf.

Today, performance groups host several productions each season, and a comprehensive curriculum of dance and theater courses is offered. Thomas Warfield, NTID’s director of dance, explained that many deaf and hard-of-hearing students are excited for the chance to perform and said that performing arts classes are often filled to capacity. “We take a different point of view of theater and approach it from multiple angles, engaging a diverse spectrum of students,” he said. “NTID performing arts is an opportunity to make our unique impact on theater and dance.”

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

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.

Share Achievements on Merit

Encourage your student to share achievements through Merit. Merit lets students share their successes — such as making the Dean’s List, joining a club or fraternity, studying abroad, getting a job and even graduating — with their friends and family through their social media networks. Each RIT student has a Merit profile page. More

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