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Science, theatre merge in play about hearing loss
By Angelia McGowan

The 17-member theatrical ensemble, "Here's to Ears" is currently touring seven K-8 schools in the Denver metro area.
Leave it to four-year-old children to say the sound of the ocean in a seashell is one of their favorite sounds compared to their dad’s snoring as one of the most annoying. These are the kinds of answers children give after seeing, “Here’s to Ears”, a play bringing together the Metro State speech, language, hearing sciences program and the theatre department, to create awareness among youth about hearing loss.

The 17-member play, currently touring seven PK-8 schools in the Denver metro area, is a piece “where theatrical ensemble performance students have developed a visual performance of a journey through the ear mechanism,” says Chair and Professor of Theatre Marilyn “Cookie” Hetzel. “Through this journey, they also teach children how to protect their hearing.”

To date, they have presented to five centers or schools, reaching more than 1,000 students. More performances are scheduled before the end of the semester.

The prevalence of hearing loss
The impetus for the collaboration came in March 2010 after Speech, Language, Hearing Sciences Assistant Professor Jessica Rossi-Katz accompanied members of Metro State’s National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) as they delivered their presentation to third graders about hearing loss.

Speech, Language, Hearing Sciences Assistant Professor Jessica Rossi-Katz in green shirt, along with students.
Afterward she wondered whether there might be a more kid friendly way to present the information and ensure that it would “stick.”

That led to a conversation with Hetzel who mentioned that she teaches a theatre ensemble class and thought hearing loss would make an ideal topic to build a play around.

While they were brainstorming how to make this happen, a study from the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) was released in August 2010, indicating one in five U.S. teens has hearing loss, blaming earbuds.

At about the same time, other studies surfaced.

“So as our wheels are turning around the country there is increasing attention being paid to hearing loss,” says Rossi-Katz, who provided scientific information to Hetzel for her class. “I realized lecturing doesn’t do it. There’s nothing more powerful than storytelling.”

The “Here’s to Ears” program pulls from the Dangerous Decibels curriculum at the Oregon Health and Science University. “The difference is they do workshops for educators as one of their outreach efforts. Our niche is theatrical performances. We do a 15-minute performance and then a 15-minute Q&A session. It’s a very unique and creative way to blend science and art to make kids excited about learning,” says Rossi-Katz.

Tara Kish, a 23-year-old speech communication broadcast performance major with a minor in theatre, says participation in the play allows participants to enrich their skills and “to use the whole body to be super creative.”

Bill Blackburn, who is earning a certificate in speech, language, hearing sciences, has been volunteering with Rossi-Katz, helping her to book schools for the tour and develop student handouts. “It’s been great to see my professor teach the things we’ve learned in class and apply it to a different format in another program and actually use it as a means for advocacy for hearing protection.”


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