ASL interpreters help bring ‘Shrek’ to life for the deaf

Photo by Sue Suchyta
“Shrek – the Musical” runs July 11 to 13 at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn with Michael Suchyta (left), 18, of Dearborn as Lord Farquaad, Rachel Ogger, 17, of Livonia as Princess Fiona, Kyle Tilman, 19, of Dearborn as Donkey and Christian Plonka, 17, of Dearborn as Shrek. For tickets or more information, call 313-943-2354 or go to

From feisty fairytale creatures to atypical heroes, “Shrek – the Musical” puts local teens in the spotlight July 11 to 13 as the Summer Arts Academy Players, sponsored by the Dearborn Recreation Department bring the laughter-inspiring musical to the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. July 11, 12 and 13, and 2:30 p.m. July 13. The Sunday performances will feature American Sign Language interpreters from Synergy on Stage.

General admission tickets are $10 and are valid at any of the four performances. To order, call 313-943-2354 or go to

The ASL interpreters from Synergy on Stage include Jamie Fidler of Livonia and Erin Parrish of Clinton Township, with Shelly Tocco of Rochester supporting the team. The three are partners in their business, which provides American Sign Language artistry for the entertainment industry. For more information about the company, go to

Tocco, who has been a theatrical interpreter for more than 20 years, formed Synergy on Stage a year ago with her partners Fidler and Parrish to provide theater interpreters and entertainment interpreters all over metro Detroit.

She said with the Americans with Disabilities Act and with the deaf feeling more empowered and wanting to add cultural experiences to their lives, entertainment interpreting has become more prevalent.

The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability under certain circumstances.

She said when they interpret a play they do as much preparation as the actors.

“We memorize the songs, we translate them, and we memorize our translations,” Tocco said. “We don’t wait to hear the actors sing for us to interpret it. We have it memorized just like they do so there is no lag time whatsoever.”

She said they always use two costumed interpreters on stage, no matter how many actors are onstage.

Audiences are often surprised to discover that the interpreters are also trained actors and that they fit seamlessly into the shows.

“The deaf audience can watch the show happen bilingually at the same time instead of looking to the side to find the language and then looking to the stage to find the action,” Tocco said. “We are built into the show and the interpreters actually become part of the cast and it works out seamlessly.

“I think they’d be surprised also to find that the interpreters are less distracting when they are built into the show than they are when they are off to the side,” Tocco said.

She said she thinks interpreted shows are great for the entire community, not just the deaf community.

“We think it is great for the hearing audiences to see how to include deaf people into our entertainment world, too, and the value of understanding their language and their culture and how we can be seamless together instead of separate,” Tocco said.

Fidler said hearing audiences are amazed seeing the subtext brought to life through the ASL interpreters, and often comment that they did not find the interpreters distracting at all.

She said they like to start to prepare to be a part of a show six to eight weeks before it opens to learn the material and match the right ASL interpreters up with a given show.

Weeks of preparation are necessary to interpret one show, Fidler said, and it is probably the most intensive of all her interpreting work.

“It is very time-intensive,” Fidler said. “You have to have a passion to do it, otherwise it might not be seen by some people as worth their time.”

Parrish said she and Fidler are already preparing to interpret Shrek and Fiona’s impromptu burping and flatulence one-upmanship, and will use different signs to convey what is occurring.

She said hearing audiences often express how seamlessly they integrate into a show.

“The hearing audience forgets that we are there, and the deaf audience thinks that everyone else on stage can sign, too,” Parrish said. “And I think the harmony of those two combined are exactly the purpose of what we do.”

Cast member Sarah Walker, 11, of Dearborn, who plays Goldilocks, hopes her Uncle Richie Castillo of Pontiac, who is deaf, will come to one of the ASL performances.

Walker said her uncle reads her lips when she talks to him. She hopes the presence of the ASL interpreters will encourage him to come see her perform in a show for the first time.

Cynthia Frabutt, who is directing “Shrek,” said she looks forward to seeing young actors return each year as well as adding new teens to each summer show.

“I am ecstatic to be able to cast some major talent for this production along with some new faces,” Frabutt said. “The cast is full of talent and enthusiasm.”

The returning adult production team includes Jeannette Capote as choreographer, Kurt Frank as musical director and Margaret Charara as costume coordinator.

The cast is led by Dearborn residents Christian Plonka, 17, as Shrek, Kyle Tillman, 19, and Bilal Hammoud, 17, alternating in the role of Donkey and the Big Bad Wolf, and Michael Suchyta, 18, as Lord Farquaad.

Rachel Ogger, 17, of Livonia plays Princess Fiona, with Amanda Chatila, 16, of Dearborn Heights singing the role of the Dragon.

The Dragonettes feature 15-year-old Dearborn residents Olivia Carstenson, Abby Goddard and Mikayla Capote. Carstenson and Goddard are featured faeries, and Capote plays the Wicked Witch.

Dearborn residents in the spotlight include Katie Garber, 13, as Gingy; Jimmy Gordon, 11, as Jiminy Cricket, and Grumpy; and Tyler Katona, 19, as the Captain of the Guards and as the Bishop.

The Three Little Pigs feature Luke Adamkiewicz, 12, of Dearborn Heights; and Dearborn residents Sean Riley, 13, and Matthew Smith, 11.

Joseph Masri plays Papa Bear, with Amelia Tennent, 13, of Dearborn Heights as Mama Bear and Madalyn Walentowicz, 7, of Garden City as Baby Bear.

Joe Gaskill, 17, of Livonia plays Pinocchio; with Hope Lesniak, 15, of Dearborn Heights is Humpty Dumpty; Erin Wade, 13, of Dearborn is Mama Ogre and Fiona Ogre; and Bryce Fallows, 7, of Canton Township is Young Shrek.

Rebekah Preiss, 16 of Dearborn Heights is Queen Lillian and Snow White, with Ben Blessing, 13, of Dearborn as King Harold.

Madison Ganzak, 11, of Dearborn Heights and Courtney Perttula, 10, of Allen Park share the role of young Fiona, alternating as Aurora.

Abbi Balaka, 16, and Kayla Katona, 14, both of Dearborn, share the role of teen Fiona, and alternately playing one of the Three Blind Mice.

Dearborn residents Sarah Randall, 15, and Quinn Johnson, 15, play the other Blind Mice.

Others in featured roles include Elizabeth Jones as the Mad Hatter; Dearborn residents Nora Neiman, 12, as the Ugly Duckling; Connor Koszlowski, 12, as Peter Pan; Alyssa Dickieson, 9, as Tinkerbell; Olivia Kirk, 10, as Alice; Jemmilie Swift, 13, as Red Riding Hood; Kristin Thompson, 15, as Cinderella and Merriweather; and Sarah Randall, 15, as the dancing Pied Piper.

Dearborn Heights residents in featured roles include Allie Thornton, 9, and Evan Thornton, 6, as the Dish and the Spoon.

Dearborn resident Amanda Keifer, 13, plays the Fairy Godmother, with Amina Mustafa of Dearborn as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Other character roles include Dearborn residents Lucas Blessing, 11, as Puss N’ Boots; Ben Dickieson, 10, of Dearborn as Hansel; and Noah Goddard, 13, as Papa Ogre and Thelonious.

Bailey Fallows, 9, of Canton plays the Blue Bird; with Brittiney Defrank, 17, of Livonia as the Shoemaker’s Elf.

Clare Marcyan, 9, of Dearborn Heights plays Little Miss Muffet; with Dearborn residents Ava Moschet, 10, as Little Bo Peep; Josie Goddard, 5, as the little faerie; Sydney Kujakowski, 10, as the Chesire Cat; and Isabella Nordini, 10, as Rapunzel.

Other children playing character roles include Aubri Dziewit as the White Rabbit; Kailey Turchan as Thumbelina; Lauren Bergeron as Gretl; Nadine Hammoud as Rumplestiltskin; and Becca Papazian as the Frog Prince.