Nine-year old Josue makes his stage debut as an Olympic athlete. His bigger-than-life costume bulges with a six pack and enormous biceps. Josue struggles to lift the 500 pound barbell in front of him. His legs quake, his arms shake and his face is a picture of determination.
His coach hollers, “You can do it! Don’t Give Up! No obstacle is too big. You can achieve your dreams! Now say it…”
Teeth clenched, Josue says under his breath, “I’m a mean lifting machine.”
Coach says “Again!”
This time Josue, at full volume, shouts, “I’m a mean lifting machine. I can do anything!”
The audience agrees and cheers him on as he raises the barbells above his head and wins the Olympic Gold. Josue comes off the stage and says “This is so much fun! Did you hear the audience clapping?”
Scenes like this one are taking place across the nation as No Limits Theatre Group’s 2011 season is underway. Productions performed by children with a hearing loss from the ages of 4 to 18 years are being rehearsed and performed in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Diego, New Brunswick, NJ and Wethersfield, CT. As Executive Director Michelle Christie-Adams recently said, “It is truly a thrilling year for No Limits as we are producing more shows than ever and are adding new cities to our No Limits family. Traveling around the country and meeting all the kids has been a wonderful time for me and the company.”
In 1996, Michelle Christie-Adams, M.S. and UCLA doctoral candidate, and a graduate of the John Tracy Clinic Graduate program, with over 18 years experience in the entertainment industry, founded No Limits. Ms. Christie-Adams recognized the lack of opportunities for oral deaf children to improve their speaking abilities in a fun and non-academic setting. Knowing these children can often be lost in the shuffle of the hearing world, Ms. Christie-Adams designed an after-school theater program to help develop communication skills, expand vocabulary and grammar, and understand character development. Through role-laying, cultivating creativity and developing public speaking skills, No Limits children began to confidently move into the hearing world. After witnessing dramatic improvements in the children, No Limits expanded to become a national program. No Limits is the only theatre group in the country for children with a hearing loss who use spoken language.
The children have performed 65 original productions in front of over 60,000 audience members and in 2009 had the distinct honor of making history by performing at the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Erica DeLange, a parent of a deaf child and organizer of the No Limits Detroit show said, “I learned about No Limits from my friend, Kathy Buckley. She felt I should talk to them because my son Stewart is deaf. We live in Michigan and they had yet to come to our area to perform. Once I talked with Michelle, I knew I had to do what I could to bring them to Michigan. I am so excited to be a part of this amazing program and can’t wait to see how much Stewart and our other actors gain from the process!” Kathy Buckley, the first hard of hearing comedienne and motivational speaker is a spokesperson for No Limits, and spreads the word across the country.
In addition to the production activity, No Limits has garnered incredible media exposure this year, appearing on ABC Family, CNN and NBC. ABC Family recently filmed a series of “webisodes” focusing on No Limits actress, Carmen Meissner, who has a role on the hit series, “Switched at Birth”. The vignettes focus on Carmen’s audition process and goes into detail on the skills she learned while participating in No Limits since she was seven years old. In addition, John Autry II, an alumnus of the inaugural 1996 production, recently acted in an episode of “Glee” and has been an active spokesperson for the benefits of theatre for children with a hearing loss and serves as a role model for the youngest No Limits actors across the nation. No Limits has been fortunate to receive much attention for the results of its program including being featured on OPRAH, PBS, The Learning Channel and the subject of four documentaries for its revolutionary techniques. It is the goal of No Limits to provide a platform that will educate the hearing community about the needs and talents of children with a hearing loss who use spoken language.
Six-year old Lana steps out confidently from behind the red curtain dressed as a young heavyweight champion with gloves bigger than her head. She then shows off the strength of her talents in the boxing ring as she becomes the first female heavyweight champion of the world. The audience excitement is palpable. Lana, like a professional actress, waits for the applause to die down before she delivers the punch line:
“I fly like a butterfly. I sting like a bee, anyone out there want to mess with me? I don’t think so. Girls Rule.”
The audience laughs and Lana smiles from ear to ear.
In addition to No Limits national theatre company, in 2002 No Limits launched its Educational Center in Los Angeles dedicated to helping lower income children, ages 4 to 18 years, and their families receive services that would otherwise be out of their reach. Some students attending No Limits arrived at five years old with no auditory skills and did not know their name, age or birthday. No Limits Educational Center was designed to help students like these. The Educational Center provides a colorful, fun and meaningful environment in which children can learn. No Limits Educational Center offers individual auditory verbal therapy, biweekly literacy program, weekly parent education, audiology services and loaner hearing aids, educational advocacy and a newly created weekly Leadership and Mentoring Academy that teaches young teens the vital skills needed to prepare for college and beyond.
Many of the students have Spanish as their home language and are in great need of these services as many of them are assessed at three to four years below grade level. The services are free to most families, but some families will contribute $5 to $10 per class. This is the only program in the nation that provides these comprehensive services and the results speak for themselves. On average, students who participate in the program for one year, gain a minimum of two years of language. The combination of individual therapy, literacy, audiological management, state of the art technology, high expectations, and parent education are the key ingredients for its impressive outcomes. For example, parents are required to attend weekly parent educational classes that provide them the information needed to support their children. The parents become great advocates and role models for other families impacted by hearing loss. In addition, the No Limits Educational Center focuses on public speaking through theatre and regular graduation ceremonies where each child declares with pride, “I can do it!”
So what’s next for No Limits? No Limits is excited about its future as it continues to reach more children with a hearing loss who use speak and listen, locally and nationwide. If you are interested in more information, please call (310) 280-0878 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. No Limits Educational Center is located at 9801 Washington Blvd., on the 2nd Floor, in the JP Morgan Chase building in Culver City, CA. Make sure to visit this incredible site. Each therapy room has its own unique theme from outer space to a 50’s diner.
If you would like to make a donation to support these children achieve their dreams, please visit www.kidswithnolimits.org.
Also, join No Limits on Facebook to learn more about upcoming productions and programs and to connect with our extended network of deaf teens.
The young actors are waiting in the wings for their final bow. Each young actor walks out to proudly state what they plan to be when they grow up. Josue says he wants to be a “football player,” Lana says “a singer,” Jazmine “a nurse”, Ivan “video game inventor,” Jose “a police officer” until the final young actor walks out and they each shout one by one, “I CAN DO IT!” and then in unison “WE CAN DO IT!”
The tearful and inspired audience cheer for these children who show that anything is possible when there are no limits.