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Apodaca: Staging a comeback

November 16, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca
  • William Martinez, right, is the dad in "Ivy   Bean: The Musical." With him are Melody Butiu, left, as the mom and Elia Saldana, center, as Bean. Martinez has two roles in the production.
William Martinez, right, is the dad in "Ivy Bean:… (Courtesy South…)

There's a scene in the musical "Ivy + Bean," a South Coast Repertory production based on the well-loved children's books, in which the actors playing the parents of one of the title characters mime an entire conversation.

It's an inside joke with the audience — made up largely of kids between the ages of 4 and 10 — meant to convey that the strict "mom" is reminding the easier-going "dad" that he needs to lay down the law to their rambunctious daughter. It's an effective moment that provokes giggles from the tykes in the crowd, and knowing laughter from their parents.

What the audience members don't know is that the scene is also rich with irony because the performer who plays the father has an unusual history with nonverbal communication. Indeed, his story of overcoming a difficult childhood to reach success and fulfillment on the stage reads like an episode from "Glee."

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William Martinez, a Colorado native who also plays a 7-year-old boy in the SCR production, was an only child raised for many years by his deaf mother after his parents split when he was 3.

Even though Martinez could hear normally, his mom shut out the hearing world. They had no TV, radio, recording devices or even a telephone. Music was never played at home, and sign language was their primary form of communication. What's more, they moved so often that Martinez found it difficult to bond with other children. Shy, lacking confidence and disconnected from his peers, he spoke little and his grades suffered.

But when Martinez was in seventh grade, he had an epiphany when a theater troupe came to his school to perform a historically themed musical.

"It just absolutely fascinated me," he said.

Something clicked inside him, but Martinez didn't fully understand it until the following year, when he transferred to yet another new school and learned that the only elective still open was choir. He overcame his shyness and tried out, and from then on, "It was like the fog lifted," he said. "I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life."

The choir teacher became a beloved mentor who encouraged Martinez to nurture his talent and follow his passion. He started spending all his free time in the music room, and began making friends. At 13, he moved in with his hearing father, and his grades improved dramatically.

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