What is it like to live in a silent – or near silent – world? At 8 p.m. on Thursday, December 15, individuals with hearing loss will share their experiences on the stage at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. The show, Silent NO MORE, features nine personal accounts told by a cast that ranges in age from 18 to 60 years-old. Created as a theatrical documentary, Silent NO MORE is an evening of storytelling comprised of witty, inspiring and raw stories that highlight the power of the human spirit. “People who have seen this show are moved to tears on so many levels,” says cast member, Kathy Buckley, a comedienne. “It allows people who have never met a person with hearing loss to have a better understanding of what it is like to live in the hearing world.”
Silent NO MORE grew out of work done by Michelle Christie, a teacher for the deaf who is the founder and executive director of No Limits, which to date has produced more than 85 original shows in 13 states. Christie, who has a doctorate in education from UCLA, also has years of experience in the entertainment industry. “Michelle saw that many hearing impaired students who would audition for their school’s plays were not cast,” says Rebecca Alexander, an author who is also a member of Silent NO MORE’s cast. Christie designed an after-school theater program to help these students develop their communication skills, expand their vocabulary and grammar, and understand character development.
According to Alexander, each story in Silent NO MORE resonates. No Limits alum who share their stories include John Autry II, a professional actor who has guest-starred in TV series like Glee, No Ordinary Family, and Til Death; David Hawkins, a pilot; and, Henry Greenfield, who holds BA and MA degrees from Lehigh University and went on a 50-day biking journey from his home in New Jersey to Culver City to raise funds and awareness for No Limits.
Two of the most amazing stories come from Kathy Buckley and Rebecca Alexander. Kathy, who was diagnosed with hearing loss in the second grade, is a five-time American Comedy Award nominee. “I got into comedy on a dare,” she explains. “I was a massage therapist and found that laughter was my best medicine in healing. Three of my clients brought in this newspaper article for a comedy contest to help raise money for children with Cerebral Palsy. I wanted to help the children and, in return, I ended up with a career I never could have dreamed.”
Kathy’s stand up routines (many can be viewed on YouTube), manage to find humor in the challenges she has faced. “Once you laugh at tragedy, you can’t cry over it anymore,” she says. “To laugh with yourself is to find the friend you have been looking for all along.”
The obstacles Kathy has faced are formidable. After a serious accident, she faced years of rehabilitation and was told she would never walk again. “I figured I didn’t hear them, so I got up and left,” she says, with her characteristic humor. “Look, no one should tell another person what they can and cannot do. I admit I was scared, confused, and lost at that time in my life. I didn’t know if I was going to be OK. But I thought, `What better time for me to start living than when you already hit rock bottom?!’”
She also battled cervical cancer. “The cancer was the scariest for me,” she says. “I can’t see it. I don’t feel it. I don’t know what it’s doing.” But she hopes other women will be proactive. “I would recommend asking questions and don’t leave until you’re satisfied with the answer. But more importantly, don’t give into the fear of the so called, `C’ word, as it no longer means the `D’ word. So fight the battle! You are already a winner when you know what you’re fighting.”
Kathy eschews labels, including describing herself as a survivor. “I believe in my faith in God,” she says. “My strength came from not wanting to disrespect the gift that was giving to me, LIFE! I am grateful for each breath I take. My strength is knowing that I am loved.”
Both Kathy and Rebecca bristle at being told they “suffer” from hearing loss. “I am not suffering with hearing loss; I live with hearing loss,” says Rebecca. “I believe that it is up to us and the media to stop using words like `suffer’ to describe people with disabilities.” She notes that words like “suffer,” “heartbreaking,” “desperate,” and “helpless,” used when describing people with disabilities, illicit pity and diminish a person’s worth by minimizing them to their disability. “I hope Silent NO MORE will encourage people to be aware of their biases and change the way they think and speak about people with hearing loss,” she adds.
Rebecca has a condition called Usher syndrome type III, which means that she is progressively losing both her vision and hearing. While a normally sighted person has 180 degrees of vision when looking straight ahead, she has about 10 degrees of her central most vision. “When I am communicating with someone in sign language, I often need them to take an extra step back so that I can see both of their hands when they sign,” she explains. “I have also learned tactile sign language which is the language of the deafblind. It is the most intimate and beautiful language to watch people converse in. Learning tactile sign has made me feel so much more connected to others and proud to be a part of the deafblind community.”
Rebecca is a psychotherapist with two master’s degrees from Columbia University. “Helping others is one of the few things that gives me the purest feeling of what it means to be alive, to be human, and to be vulnerable,” she says. “In order to help others, though, I’ve had to help myself, too. My own work in therapy has been the most difficult and meaningful work I have ever done. My experiences and my own self-reflection are reminders of how capable and resilient we are when we don’t allow fear to control and direct our lives.” She is the author of Not Fade Away – A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found.
Like Kathy, Rebecca had a serious accident and was told she would never walk properly. Yet today she teaches spin classes and does a lot of high intensity training (HIT) and functional fitness. “Although I will always live with the constant pain from the injuries I sustained, I am so grateful that I am still able to be physically active,” she says.
Both women are looking forward to the December 15 presentation of Silent NO MORE at Carnegie Hall. “I am in complete awe of every cast member on stage who has the courage to share their very personal life for the world to see,” says Kathy. “I am proud to be on stage with them all.”
Top photo credit: No Limits
Credit for Rebecca Alexander’s photo: Terry Leingang
Silent NO MORE
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
One night only – 8 p.m. Thursday, December 15, 2016
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
881 Seventh Avenue at 57th Street
Click to purchase tickets.