Home Arts Rider receives NEA grant to host inclusive theater performances

Rider receives NEA grant to host inclusive theater performances

Rider receives NEA grant to host inclusive theater performances

The performances at Rider will use both American Sign Language and spoken English. NTD pioneered this dual language theatrical art form which involves deaf actors performing in sign language or gesture with hearing actors (either onstage or offstage) simultaneously providing voicing access for the benefit of hearing audiences. The performances will be the first of their kind at Rider and utilize new technology, recently acquired through a grant from the Martinson Family Foundation to enhance the actors’ performance.

“The majority of our students have never seen a show by deaf performers,” says Gina Bencivengo ’98 who is a K-8 performing arts and English language teacher at the Katzenbach School. “I am most excited because our students will not have to focus on interpreters – the performers will be signing themselves.”

Bencivengo, who received dual bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and fine arts from Rider and a master’s in deaf education from Gallaudet University, says she is looking forward to her students observing theater role models.

“We know that young deaf audiences attending NTD performances are often witnessing deaf artists and professionals in the flesh for the very first time,” says Tyrone Giordano, board chair of the NTD. “You can see that flicker of recognition inside them grow into a fire as they begin to imagine and emulate such careers for themselves. It’s one of the biggest reasons why we keep doing what we do.”

In addition to the performances, junior music education majors Emily Huegenin and Sienna Grinwald-Alves will prepare age-appropriate lessons to complement the performance for the elementary school audience. They will work with Dr. Sarah Perry, assistant professor of music education, and music education graduate assistants Hayley Ashe and Shayna Lee, to develop interdisciplinary curricular materials and in-person workshops for participating teachers that will focus on post-performance activities for students.

Perry specializes in the arts within special education and integrated arts learning, focusing on addressing the needs of special learners in music, visual arts and dance settings.

The grant is one of 262 Challenge America awards totaling $2.62 million that were announced by the NEA as part of its first round of fiscal year 2023 grants. The Challenge America program offers support primarily to small organizations for projects in all artistic disciplines that extend the reach of the arts to populations that have limited access due to geography, ethnicity, economics or disability.

“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support arts projects in communities nationwide,” says NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, Ph.D. “Projects such as this one with Rider University strengthen arts and cultural ecosystems, provide equitable opportunities for arts participation and practice, and contribute to the health of our communities and our economy.”


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