Francesca Maldari was in sixth grade when a classmate said something to her that she didn't hear. "What are you, deaf?" the girl said.
"Actually ..." Maldari replied, and pulled back her long hair, exposing the hearing aids that help correct her severe to profound hearing loss.
That silenced the shocked classmate. "I don't care if I put someone in her place," says Maldari, now 15 and heading into her sophomore year at Syosset High School. She's adjusted to bullying, ignorance and sometimes thoughtless comments during her journey.
At 7 p.m. Sunday at the Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City, Maldari and five other young Long Islanders who are deaf or have hearing loss will share these kinds of stories in a live performance of monologues coupled with photos and videos of them growing up and learning to operate in a hearing world. The show will be followed by a question-and-answer session.
The event is presented by No Limits, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit after-school program that teaches life skills to deaf children ages 3 to 18. The organization's National Theater Program outreach arm organizes performing arts in communities such as Long Island, typically entailing children with hearing loss acting in plays to help them practice speaking in public.
This is the first time No Limits is attempting a documentary-style show to directly explain what kids with hearing loss go through. A Los Angeles version sold out; the Long Island version features alumni who have previously participated in the No Limits plays here.
Nick Sambar, 17, going into his senior year at East Meadow High School, says he received an email asking if he wanted to participate. "I immediately said yes," Sambar says. "I was very open to the idea of sharing my story and possibly helping other kids going through the same situation with any disability. I'm letting people know they're not alone, and it does get better."
Sambar is deaf, but he has cochlear implants in both ears; his first device was implanted at age 2. Cochlear implants are two-part electronic devices made up of an internal portion surgically implanted in the inner ear and an external portion that sits behind the ear. When Sambar takes off the exterior portion to go to sleep, he can't hear anything. His monologue, which he wrote with the help of No Limits founder Michelle Christie, talks about the tension within the deaf community between those who choose cochlear implants and join the oral world and those who communicate using sign language, which Sambar doesn't know or use.
"This will be a very honest portrayal of a new generation of individuals with hearing loss," Christie says, as kids like Sambar are the first generation to grow up with implants, which help them interact orally with the hearing world, but which also may distance them from deaf culture.
"Deafness in the 1970s was different from what deafness is now in 2014," says Nick's mom, Angela. It's easier for kids to integrate into the hearing world. Texting levels the playing field. And then there are the implants, which peers often mistake for Bluetooth technology. "It's a miracle in many ways, but it's a hard-earned miracle," says Linda Davidson, mom of performer Liz Davidson, 20, who is going into her second year studying filmmaking at Columbia College in Chicago and has an implant. Kids with implants go through intensive therapy to help them learn to speak and interpret others' speech. "They speak so beautifully that people don't understand that they don't hear the way they speak."
Other performers include Jonathan Pollino, 23, of Plainview, who has mild to moderate hearing loss, wears hearing aids in both ears and teaches special education in Manhattan; his 15-year-old sister, Stephanie, heading into 10th grade with high-frequency hearing loss in both ears; and Grace Agolia, 18, of Massapequa Park, who was born profoundly deaf in both ears, got a cochlear implant at 20 months old and is entering her sophomore year as a theology major at the University of Notre Dame.
"It would be great for people who are just beginning their journey with hearing loss to come see this show," says Linda Davidson. "It would help them understand what's possible.''
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Sunday at the Long Island Children's Museum, 11 Davis Ave., Garden City