The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Actors bring life experiences to ‘The Taste of Sunrise’

Actors are taught to draw upon their own lives to bring authenticity to their characters and CSUN students Michael Olivier and Jessica Strohfeldt’s heartfelt performances in Susan Zeder’s “The Taste of Sunrise,” are great examples of what happens when that is done successfully.

The play, running through Sunday at the Little Theatre in Nordhoff Hall, directed by Doug Kaback with Bob Hiltermann, is the story of Tuc (Olivier), a deaf young man struggling to communicate with his hearing father and the world around him during the early 1900s.

The play illuminates the effort of many institutions to teach deaf children to speak, and the often-hostile reaction of some people in deaf education to the use of sign language.

Olivier, a junior liberal studies major, with a minor in theatre, said in an email interview that he had much in common with Tuc.

“I had communication barriers when I was growing up and even still today,” Olivier said. “My parents found out I was deaf when I was 16-months-old, and they decided that learning American Sign Language and going to a deaf school was the best education for me.”

Like his character, Olivier once visited an oral school and was chastised by a teacher there for signing the word “bird.” The woman slapped Olivier’s hand before teaching him how to voice the word.

“I was so confused and lost,” Olivier said. “At that moment, my parents knew that (the) oral method was not the best choice for my future education.”

Olivier, a physically gifted and expressive actor, performs onstage with a controlled abandon.

“When I am on the stage, I become intense with my character,” Olivier said. “And I love the feeling of turning into the character inside of me, so I can forget about everything else that is going on in my everyday life.”

The play emphasizes the everyday challenges between deaf and hearing people, Olivier said.

“Communication is the key between deaf and hearing worlds,” Olivier said. “Teaching and learning from each other is such a beautiful thing.”

Actor Jessica Strohfeldt, a junior, did not learn how to sign until she enrolled at CSUN as a freshman. After a lifetime of living in the “hearing world,” Strohfeldt, who is hard of hearing, suddenly found herself immersed in a new “deaf world.”

Strohfeldt, an English major (said she will soon switch to theater), chose to live in the “deaf dorms,” and felt isolated by the people using sign language in the halls.

“I had no idea (what they were saying),” Strohfeldt said. “I was so scared.”

All that has changed for Strohfeldt.

“When I wake up in the morning, I sign,” Strohfeldt said.

Like her character, Maizie, who in the play is a hearing woman with deaf parents, Strohfeldt has always felt somewhere in-between the two worlds (her family is hearing).

“I never felt so deaf as when I was in a room full of hearing people,” Strohfeldt said. “And I never felt so hearing as when I was in a room full of deaf people. You’re so torn.”

Strohfeldt said she appreciates that the play deals with this issue.

“You hear about a deaf person, and you hear about a hearing person,” Strohfeldt said. “But you never hear about a person who is in-between.”

Strohfeldt saw an earlier production of “The Taste of Sunrise” while she was attending high school in Illinois.

“I was balling,” Strohfeldt said, struck by the similarities between her life and Maizie’s. She knew then that she wanted to perform the role someday.

“This is a dream come true for me,” Strohfeldt said.

Because she has some hearing, one of the challenges in the play for Strohfeldt is, when she uses sign language in a scene and actor Leigh Eskovitz speaks her dialogue.

“I feel very aware,” Strohfeldt.

Eskovitz and Talia Savren, who voices for the character of Tuc, bring real emotion to their interpretations, and Strohfeldt said she appreciates that.

The challenge is because ASL is a “visual language,” similar to the structure of Spanish, Strohfeldt said, so what Strohfeldt is signing does not always match what Eskovitz is speaking.

This dual performance adds a great dimension to the play.

Creatively directed by Kaback and Deaf West Theatre’s Hiltermann, “The Taste of Sunrise” is a full sensorial experience with its many sound effects and accompanied expressive movements. Strohfeldt brings a sense of fun, even silliness, with just below the surface vulnerability to her performance as Maisie.

Strohfeldt and Olivier hope to see more plays like this, utilizing deaf performers and themes, and would even like to see a deaf company of CSUN actors emerge from this experience.

“I think this (play) is a big step, a blooming of the flower,” Strohfeldt said. “If you can make people laugh and make them cry, that is awesome.”

The play continues at CSUN until April 3. For ticket information, please call (818) 677-3091. It will also run at Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood, May 13-15.

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