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A&E

Wheaton Drama’s 'The Addams Family' actress breaking new ground

WHEATON – After 88 years of providing theater and arts for the community, Wheaton Drama is taking a step to open its doors even wider.

Gretchen Gannon of Lombard is the first deaf actor to work on a show with the troupe, Wheaton Drama announced in a news release from Elena Dansdill. After deciding to return to theater after a hiatus of almost 10 years, Gannon realized many of the deaf theaters she previously worked with had folded, and auditioned for Wheaton Drama for the first time. She landed an ensemble role in "The Addams Family – A New Musical," playing through Oct. 6.

“Without the gracious forward thinking of Wheaton Drama to make their theater accessible to the deaf community, none of this would be possible,” Gannon stated in the release. “For example, hiring sign language interpreters for rehearsals and performances. The interpreter keeps me in the 'Family' business at all times with whatever is going on at that moment.”

And technology like Facebook has helped her by giving her a way to watch rehearsal videos to nail down each step.

“Gretchen brings depth and creativity to this theater,” Gannon's interpreter Patti Shore Kaden of Naperville stated. “People who come to the show will see this and be part of the magic.”

Gannon has the bit of magic that every actor needs, according to the troupe. She says people have always seen her as an entertainer, making them smile and relax, and that’s what draws her to theater.

Besides casting its first deaf actor, Wheaton Drama also scheduled an interpreter at four performances for audience members who are deaf and hard of hearing.

This is a huge step towards making Wheaton Drama more accessible, and one that needs to happen more often in community theaters, according to Gannon, who notes it increases the opportunity for all people to see the show.

“The opportunity to make the show accessible was made possible in part by Gretchen’s talent and tenacity, the leadership of the production team for 'Addams Family,' headed by director Dan Hitzemann [of Carol Stream], and by generous donations,” Wheaton Drama President Julie Kanturek stated. “Honestly, we didn’t set out to create a show inclusive for more audiences, but Gretchen blew the socks off our production team; they knew we had to have her, and we knew we needed to figure out how to make it happen.”

Creating a show with inclusivity involves hiring an interpreter for the rehearsals, and two American Sign Language interpreters for each performance, costs the theater hadn’t originally considered when budgeting the show.

“Thankfully, before we’d even decided as a board to hire interpreters for four performances, we had the commitment of an anonymous donor to help make it happen," stated Kanturek, a Carol Stream resident. "Since then, we reached out to [State] Rep. Terra Costa Howard, who has also generously agreed to help. The support of our community, both inside and outside our theater, is what is really special about this production. And it means Wheaton Drama is becoming even more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community – and to anyone who loves theater.”

If you go

WHAT: Wheaton Drama presents "The Addams Family – A New Musical"

WHERE: Wheaton Drama's Playhouse 111, 111 N. Hale St., Wheaton

WHEN: WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 6; remaining American Sign Language interpreted performances are offered at 3 p.m. Sept. 22 and 29 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5

COST: $21 to $24

INFO: wheatondrama.org, 630-260-1820

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