ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
When the Tabor College Drama Department presents its interterm play, “Mother Hicks,” next week, one of the lead actors will not speak a single line.
Instead, Mirko Del Pozo, a first-year Tabor student from Shawnee, will be communicating with sign language.
Del Pozo, who cannot hear, will play the part of Tuc, a deaf man in his 20s. The writer of the play, Suzan Zeder, urges directors to cast a deaf or hearing-impaired actor in the role and Judy Harder, Tabor’s director, was eager to comply.
“We are pleased that Mirko agreed to be cast as Tuc,” Harder said. “Mirko’s performance ability, patience and sense of humor is already playing a big part in making this challenging play come to life.”
Set in southern Illinois during the Great Depression, the play tells the story of three outsiders: a foundling girl known only as Girl, a deaf boy eloquent in the language of his silence, and Mother Hicks, an eccentric recluse who is suspected of being a witch.
The story, told with poetry and sign language, chronicles the journeys of these three to find themselves and each other in a troubled time.
Del Pozo knows troubled times, too. His family moved from Spain to Peru, where Mirko was born. But when war disrupted life there, he and his family decided to leave the country.
“We went to Italy, we learned Italian,” Del Pozo said through his interpreter Traci Anderson. “Then, when I was 15 years old, my sister moved to Kansas City. She heard that here they have a better educational situation for the deaf, so we moved there and I started learning more English.”
He also got his first experiences in drama productions there as a high school student. As a junior, he had a part in the school play.
“The first time in high school I was so scared,” he said. “It was my first play and it was a big audience. It turned out fine. The place was big, but this is very comfortable.”
When it came time for college, Del Pozo chose Tabor because of its size.
“I came here to school because I wanted to go to a small school-that was probably my main reason,” he said. “I wanted to be in a small school and a small town so I could focus more on me and get a better education.
“I felt like it would be good for me here, that I would get more experience with a different culture,” he added. “People here believe in God.”
Del Pozo is accompanied to classes by Anderson, who was hired by the college to be his interpreter.
“I can’t get it all by myself,” Del Pozo said about class lectures. “People talk in different ways and in different places. It’s hard for me to understand, so they provide an interpreter so I can get all of the information the people are saying.”
Even though he wasn’t aware of “Mother Hicks” before, Del Pozo agreed to be in the play because he believes it speaks to the communication needs of the deaf and those who live around them.
“I think this play is an example for hearing people about how we feel, and how we communicate with them,” he said. “Tuc has feelings about Girl, but she’s very poor and he feels that same connection.”
“I wanted people to know how I felt bout being deaf, about communicating with each other. I wanted them to understand that better so they wouldn’t be so awkward with me, but be more comfortable and would socialize with me.”
Not being able to hear does pose some challenges for an actor, Del Pozo said.
“I have to watch what’s going on and what people are doing. Everyone else is trying to be open minded and encouraging, and they are starting to socialize with me a lot more. I’m encouraged about that, and they are learning sign. It’s really improving.”
Even with some acting experience, Del Pozo said he expects to have a few jitters on opening night.
“It’s scary, even in this small theater,” he said. “For myself, I don’t have a lot of experience and I know they’ll be looking at me, with my signing and stuff. But it doesn’t matter. It will be OK.”
Del Pozo said he hopes the play will encourage people who can hear to be more comfortable with people who can’t.
“I hope people know they can converse with the deaf,” he said. “I see people who are hearing, they have a hard time, they feel uncomfortable. If they would just try to have a conversation they would be surprised how much can be communicated.”