Performing Arts Groups to Entertain at Van Nuys Fair for the Disabled

A theater group that lip-syncs while signing song lyrics and a puppet troupe that teaches about disabilities are two of more than 40 organizations to be featured at the Disabilities Resource Fair on Sunday at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Van Nuys.

There will be sign-language interpreters and materials available in Braille at the one-day fair meant to provide information on programs and other resources available to the physically and developmentally disabled.

The fair will feature several performing arts groups, including Quiet Zone Theater, Kids on the Block puppeteers, Dance Outreach, the Project Return Players improvisational group and a martial arts presentation.

Quiet Zone Theater, established in 1987 by sign-language students from Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, will present a variety show in American Sign Language. Comedy skits dealing with deaf culture, mime and music will be performed, producer Joshua Vecchione said. Many of the skits the theater company performs are educational, and one teaches the sign-language alphabet.

Kids on the Block, an international program started in the mid-'70s, will present puppet shows that teach children about disabilities such as blindness, deafness, learning disabilities or Down's syndrome.

Trained volunteers use life-size hand and rod puppets, and each skit includes two puppets, one that represents a person with a disability and one without. The show encourages youngsters to ask questions and talk about disabilities.

"The show we do is educational with an element of fun," said Alise Sochaczewski, director of a local Kids on the Block group.

The Project Return Players is an improvisational theater group whose goal is to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness. The group will perform a variety of comedy skits dealing with mental health. In 1982, Carrie Bray, a professional actress and teacher, founded the group with people recovering from mental illnesses.

Bray said she believes that the public harbors misconceptions about the mentally ill and that she hopes the group's performances will help people realize that those recovering from mental illness can be productive citizens.

The martial arts demonstration will be presented by Ron Scanlan, 35, who has an eighth-degree black belt in kung fu despite being confined to a wheelchair since a spinal cord injury at age 9. Besides running his Westwood martial arts studio, Scanlan travels the world presenting self-defense demonstrations geared to disabled people.

In addition, disabled children from the Frances Blend School in Los Angeles will perform in a show organized by Dance Outreach, said Libi Warren, executive director of that organization and Bethune Theatredanse. The production will give these youngsters an opportunity to express themselves through dance and movement, organizers say.

Founded seven years ago by Zina Bethune, a professional dancer who suffered from physical ailments, Dance Outreach sponsors dance programs in seven Southern California schools.

"We use the arts as a healing force," Warren said. "Just because a person can't walk, is blind or is autistic doesn't mean they can't enjoy music and movement."

Said Ben Mattlin, co-chairman of the Commission on Jews With Disabilities, which is sponsoring the fair with a division of the Council on Jewish Life: "The purpose of the event is to enable and empower people with disabilities to do things that they thought they couldn't do."

The Disabilities Resource Fair will be from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys. Free transportation and child care can be arranged. Call (818) 786-6310.

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