Students perform in sign language

HUBBARD – For Chance Ogrodny, taking on the role of Willy Wonka in Hubbard High School’s sign language program is one step toward his lifelong goal: to interpret American Sign Language for children.

In one of the few districts to offer ASL to students, Hubbard takes it a step further this year in its production of “Willy Wonka Jr.”

ASL instructor Rich Magazzine calls it a bridge between two worlds: The play is not only a way for those in the deaf community to enjoy a performance in their own language, but an opportunity for those in the hearing community to see it from another perspective as well, he said.

The act began Friday and continues with performances today and Sunday in the Hubbard High School auditorium.

During the performance, actors are silent, using their hands, bodies and facial expressions to convey their lines. At the same time, interpreters seated in front of the stage speak the lines for members of the audience who can hear them.

“I hope that people will actually start to look at deaf culture in a different way and not just look into the medical aspect,” said Sarah Juntunen, 18, who plays the role of Charlie.

Assistant director and YSU student intern Gordon and Magazzine helped springboard Hubbard High School’s ASL program into a community performance.

“I just wanted to start something where people in the area who are deaf could come and enjoy something in their own language,” he said.

Magazzine learned ASL while living with a deaf family in Cincinnati. The experience encouraged him to pursue a degree in educational interpretation. He also has experience working with Youngstown Hearing and Speech.

Magazzine said the response from the community has been positive.

“Everybody said it was a real unique experience,” he said.

Juntunen said she hopes the audience will come away with a better understanding of ASL.

“They use lots and lots of expression. They’re very emotional,” she said, explaining that facial expressions can become exclamations; raised eyebrows can convey a yes or no question whereas flat brows make a declarative statement.

“It’s a visual language,” said Magazzine.

“Drama and sign language work very well together. It’s all about the expression,” Juntunen said.

This is ASL students’ second production. Last year they performed in a production of “Aladdin.”

Gordon said this year offers more leading roles.

“With ‘Aladdin’ there’s very few main characters. We’re just trying to do more,” she said.

Gordon said students begin in ASL 1, but don’t perform in ASL until they have reached ASL 3. For this year’s performance, more than For this year’s performance, more than 20 students have been practicing for months.