- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Students at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts got some priceless pointers from a veteran stage performer about character acting and the fine art of observation.

Iosif Schneiderman, a Russian mime and 28-year member of the Moscow Theatre of the Deaf, showed a group of BAPA's deaf, hearing and hard-of-hearing student actors how facial expression and body movement enable an actor to connect with a character.

The upbeat mime brought the subtleties of great theater to life during a three-day workshop last week at BAPA's Imagination Stage at White Flint in Rockville, Md.

"It's not enough to say the lines. Expression without feeling does not work. You must connect emotion and expression," Mr. Schneiderman says through an interpreter.

He urged the actors not to depend on costumes or props. Rather, he repeated his credo to observe and become aware of the characters they wish to embody and transform themselves into those characters.

Jonathan LeFlore, 16, benefited from Mr. Schneiderman's master classes. Jonathan, who can hear, plays a leading role in the company's upcoming production, "The Magic Babushka & Other Russian Tales," which debuts in January.

"Iosif loves what he's doing and he has great energy. That fits with the tone of this company. We love what we are doing and we have … excitement for what we're working on," Jonathan says.

"I've come away feeling better about myself and feeling good about the whole experience."

That's exactly what Lisa Agogliati, BAPA's Deaf Access Company founder and director wants to hear whether it's spoken or signed it's all music to her ears.

"Having Mr. Schneiderman here has been an incredible inspiration for the students. I know that his goal was not just to teach mime. He really wanted to inspire them to understand and appreciate the power of observation," Ms. Agogliati, 34, says.

Mr. Schneiderman gave a one-man show for the students they will not soon forget, she says.

"They saw an incredible display of technique and artistry. And, there was a constant wave of hands in the air [applause in sign language]. You could feel how much they were benefiting from it. "… He's just as enthusiastic about performing as he is about sharing his work and passing it on to another generation," Ms. Agogliati says.

The cast of 13, who range in ages 14 to 18, are divided equally between hearing and deaf actors and actresses and are a part of the Senior Company. They will present "The Turnip," a classic children's tale using a combination of mime, movement and expression, Ms. Agogliati says.

"We decided that "The Turnip" would not be done in our traditional style of sign language and spoken voice. We're doing it as a complete mime," she says.

"The Turnip" centers around a grandfather who plants a turnip seed which grows to be very large. He tries to pull the plant out of the ground but doesn't have any luck. So he goes in search of some help, Ms. Agogliati says.

Mr. Schneiderman proved to be a source of inspiration in shaping the piece, she says. Ms. Agogliati sees the company's departure from the norm as an opportunity to broaden its scope and give audiences something new.

To help the students get into character, Mr. Schneiderman gave a lecture on deaf life in Russia. He also taught them Russian sign language before returning to his job with the Cleveland Signstage Theater.

"The students were fascinated. Part of what they have learned will be put into the play. We will have four languages merging in the 'The Magic Babushka & Other Russian Tales,' " Ms. Agogliati says.

Along with the standard production staff, which includes the director, the choreographer and stage manager, there are two other essential components in deaf theater, Ms. Agogliati says.

"We have the assistance of two sign masters and we also have a person on our staff called a visual dramaturg. The sign master's job is to translate the scripts from written English to sign language.

"The visual dramaturg identifies the visual elements of the script and works with the company to develop a rich picture for the production. They conduct research very much the same way as I do, but the focus is on the visual elements," she says.

WHAT: "The Magic Babushka & Other Russian Tales"

WHERE: The Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts' Imagination Stage at White Flint, 11301 Rockville Pike, N. Bethesda, Md.

WHEN: Jan. 27 through Feb. 11. Saturday and Sunday performances only at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

COST: $6.50 general admission. $5.50 for groups of 10 and up.

PHONE: 301/881-5106

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