Students aim to build deaf awareness, encourage sign language

Sophomore Max Rollins and junior Erin Rosenfeld captivated a diverse audience this past December as they portrayed characters with hearing difficulties in the winter play, “Tribes.” 

Max played Billy, who was born deaf and raised in a hearing family. Erin played Sylvia, who grew up in a deaf family and is losing her hearing. As the story goes, Sylvia teaches Billy sign language and introduces him to deaf culture. 

“I was really excited to play this role,” Erin said. “I thought it was cool that GBN was trying a show that’s different from what’s normally represented in media.”

Hearing difficulty hits home for both students. Max is deaf in his left ear and has moderate hearing loss in his right ear. Erin was born with hearing loss. Both have learned to read lips and  sign. In classes, teachers wear an ALD, or microphone-like device that pairs with the students’ hearing aids to help them hear the lesson.

“All of my teachers have been really helpful and understanding,” Max said. “I always sit on the left side of the classroom so that I can hear better.”

One part of the “Tribes” rehearsal process that really resonated with Max and Erin was attending a deaf community night at Panera Bread where they were able to sign with a number of deaf people and invite them out to the winter play.

“It was so nice to have support from them,” Erin said, adding that another special moment was when an interpreter visited dress rehearsals. “She immediately started signing with me, and the cast was so enthusiastic about learning sign with us.”

While rehearsals seemed to fly by, Erin and Max said the show delivered a powerful message.

“Being deaf isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Max said. “If someone has a deaf child, they should definitely introduce them to the deaf community and teach them to sign so that they can communicate.”

Erin agreed.

“If at least one person from the audience was inspired to learn sign or spread the message of the show, I achieved my goal. I hope that [the show inspired] more awareness of the deaf community because some people don’t even know it exists.”

Erin continues to teach herself to sign and is enrolled in sign language classes at Glenbrook South. She said she hopes to one day act in Deaf West Theatre in California. 

Max also would like to continue acting.

“My friends who are in college are deaf, and they’re pursuing musical theatre,” Max said. “They’ve really inspired me to pursue an acting career.”

For now, they will keep shining at GBN. 

“The best thing about being at GBN is the theatre program,” Erin said. “Most of my friends are in theatre so it’s a family.” 

Tribes Video


Students aim to build deaf awareness, encourage sign language