GSU Students Deliver Inspiring Performance
Tiffany Sampson never thought of herself as an actor. The Governors State University (GSU) senior, who lost her hearing when she was just eight years old, took to the stage recently, though, in a Theatre and Performance Studies (TAPS) Performance Spotlight production.
“She has a wonderful ability to connect to feelings and express them physically through her gestures, movement, and the use of her body,” said GSU acting coach Cheryl Graeff. “What was remarkable to me about Tiffany’s work at the Spotlight Hour was how she found herself in the multiple layers of [her character].”
Sampson and her co-star—hearing-capable Bradford Simmons—enacted a scene from Children of a Lesser God, a 1980 Tony-winning Broadway play adapted into a 1986 film that garnered the first and only Academy Award win for a deaf person by actress Marlee Matlin. As the students acted out the scene, Simmons spoke his lines, but also used ASL—a communication method he hadn’t known prior to the production. In just two and a half weeks of preparation for their performance, Sampson taught Simmons sign language for their scene using videos and online tutorials, and she encouraged him to use his own signs that made sense to him.
“I taught Bradford some quick, simple signs that would be easy to remember, like instead of spelling the name Franklin, just to sign the letter F. And instead of saying the full line in the play, to break it down. Because really, in ASL, we rarely say complete sentences. We tend to break it down.”
Sampson is one of a small handful of students who require hearing assistance at GSU. She said the GSU Office of Disability Services has helped her excel by providing an interpreter and note taker for classes. In addition, Director of Student Disability Services Robin Sweeney took on the de facto role of academic advisor for Sampson and encouraged her to explore the Interdisciplinary Studies (IDSS) major, which offers more flexibility to achieve the student’s life goals.
Sampson’s goal? She wants to help those who can hear speak to those who can’t.
“I want to educate hearing people about deafness. When a hearing couple has a deaf child, they try to fix the child instead of accepting that the child has a disability. The disability is not stopping them. Just because a child is deaf does not mean they are broken—they are just deaf," Sampson said.
Sampson feels strongly that GSU students, both hearing and non-hearing, could also benefit from classes about deaf culture.
“I want to see more deaf education and sign language courses offered here. Hearing people need to learn how to sign,” she said.
Sweeney said Sampson is inspiring both on and off stage.
"She's so dedicated, so persistent. She really amazes me. I'm honored to work with students like Tiffany. Students like her are why I do what I do."
Governors State University’s Office of Disability Services accommodates the needs of deaf and hearing-impaired students. For more information, please contact Robin Sweeney, Director of Student Disability Services, by phone 708.235.3968 or by email.