Deaf student’s dream onstage with Pgh Playwrights

Posted by WPSDAA on Feb 12, 2019 in News
Cathy Morgan, left, signs to Aaliyah Sanders of Scranton, a student at Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, to interpret instructions from director Monteze Freeland, during rehearsal for Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s “Savior Samuel,” opening Feb 14. at the Trust Arts Education Center, Downtown. Photo: Alexandra Wimley/Post-Gazette.

Published on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 12, 2019

Aaliyah Sanders was in the right place at the right time, and now, says the 16-year-old aspiring actress, “I’m living the dream.”

The Scranton native and 10th-grader at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Edgewood was on the scene when Mark Clayton Southers, the head of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, came looking for someone to fill the role of a African-American female who is hearing impaired. The role pf Essie in his new play, “Savior Samuel,” which opens Feb. 14, is crucial. Essie gives birth “without ever having been with anyone,” is how Aaliyah put it, and her son, Samuel, is initially taken from her. 

She is being directed by Monteze Freeland and in a cast that includes Wali Jamal, two Post-Gazette Performers of the Year, and experienced performers such as Jonathan Berry, Cheryl El-Walker and Susan McGregor-Laine. Aaliyah communicates with the help of American Sign Language interpreter Cathy Morgan, who is by her side throughout rehearsals. Her fellow actors have sight cues for Aaliyah to know when to move and react.

Cathy Morgan, left, signs to Aaliyah Sanders of Scranton, a 10th grader at Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, to interpret instructions from director Monteze Freeland, right, while fellow actors Susan McGregor-Laine and Jonathan Berry review the script during rehearsal for Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s “Savior Samuel.” Photo: Alexandra Wimley/Post-Gazette.

Aaliyah had always acted in school plays and decided in the fourth grade that she wanted to be an actress, when she was told she was so expressive, she didn’t need words to communicate. Her favorite role — until now — was in a play in which “I had to believe really hard for Christmas to come,” she said. She has no wish-list roles, but  she was inspired by the young actors she saw on The Disney Channel. 

She is keeping up with her studies by day, rehearsing at night and still can’t believe her good fortune, because “there aren’t a lot of auditions” for deaf actors. Asked if she is nervous about getting in front of an audience, with a featured role in a professional production, she seems surprised. “No,” she said during a rehearsal break last week. “I have a lot of confidence. This is what I always wanted to do, and I’m doing it.” 

Aaliyah Sanders of Scranton, a student at Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, signs to someone on her phone before rehearsal for Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s “Savior Samuel.” Photo: Alexandra Wimley/Post-Gazette.

“Savior Samuel” is set in 1877, part of an intended cycle of 19th century plays about the African-American experience by Mr. Southers. Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 14 through March 15 (pay what you can and ASL on March 4) at the Trust Arts Education Center, fourth floor, 805 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $30; tickets and times at pghplaywrights.org.

Aaliyah Sanders, center, of Scranton, a student at Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, rehearses with fellow actors Susan McGregor-Laine, left, and Wali Jamal for Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s “Savior Samuel,” opening Feb 14. at the Trust Arts Education Center, Downtown. Photo: Alexandra Wimley/Post-Gazette.

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.

Link Article Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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