Pitch Perfect

For a young actor, overcoming obstacles is part of daily life

 

Interview by Lindsee Gentry

 

Ty Kirk, a sixth grader at Lewisburg Middle School, is like any other young boy his age. The narrator of Kudzu Playhouse’s “Into the Woods,” Ty once again entertained audiences with his onstage performance. Nominated for two Allie Awards, Kirk is proving himself as a young actor in the MidSouth. Though his acting appears seamless, an inherent ability that many toil for years to achieve, Ty has faced a challenge that could easily have deterred him from stepping onto the stage. Ty has a hearing loss that resulted from scar tissue built up from repeated PE Tube surgeries. Because of this, Ty has difficulty hearing high frequency pitches. But this has not held Ty back in any way. Instead, Ty excels in theater and in the classroom as a result of his determination. Ty describes his journey as a student, young actor and someone dealing with hearing loss in this interview.

 

CLICK: I read that at age five you approached your parents with the desire to act. Where did this inspiration come from or what interested you in acting — a movie, play, other kids, your family?
Ty Kirk: I first became interested in acting and theater after seeing Seussical at Playhouse on the Square.  My parents let me join children's choir at church and participate in school plays. I then tried summer theater camps with Kudzu and Desoto Family Theater. My first audition for a Community Theater production for "The Wizard of Oz" at Desoto Family Theater.  I was a Lollipop Guild Munchkin.  After that first real show, I was hooked.  I have participated in at least two or three shows a year since then.  
C: People are surprised to find out that you have a hearing impairment because you excel not only on the stage but also in the classroom. Were you surprised yourself at being able to overcome the challenges you faced?
TK: I am not surprised that I was able to excel in both school and theater. I’ve never let anything hold me back.  When I first wanted to become involved in theater, we were concerned about my speech. I’ve worked very hard with my speech language therapist to use correct speech when communicating.  The biggest challenge for me has been to work through speech articulation so that I can be understood when speaking.  I have never viewed my hearing loss as a challenge — I just hear differently than others.  
CLICK: What was your biggest inspiration or was there anyone who helped you along the way?
TK: My parents have been a huge support. I can remember my dad checking my ears and giving me "hearing tests" at home to see which sounds I could hear best. Dr. Colvin has also helped me along the way.  He has always been very caring and attentive to me and has performed all of my surgeries.  We also are very grateful that I have had the opportunity to be in a Total Communication preschool classroom at Lewisburg Elementary School. I was able to receive speech therapy as well as have a sign language interpreter in the classroom.  My parents believe that early intervention was key in helping me to be successful.  All of my teachers have had a role in helping me to succeed and overcome any challenges I have faced in the classroom.
C: Can you describe your hearing loss and methods you've used to compensate for your inability to hear high frequency sounds?
Ty’s Parents: Ty has a hearing loss from scar tissue that has built up from repeated PE Tube surgeries.  When  the tubes are out, he also has thick fluid that builds up in his ears making it more difficult to hear high frequency pitches.  His doctor described it as sounding like you are underwater.  He learned to read lips at a very young age to compensate for the hearing loss.  The only assistance Ty needs in the classroom is a classroom soundfield which is a speaker attatched to a microphone amplifies his teacher's voice.
C: What do you think people would be surprised to know about your condition?
TK: I want people to know that just because you have trouble hearing it doesn't mean you can't do anything a normal kid can do.  You should not be afraid to step out and try anything.
I would tell people who are facing a challenge to try to look on the bright side. Just because you may not have the things that other kids may have it doesn't mean that you are any less important.  We all have things that make us different and special.
C: What would you tell parents of children who have a hearing impairment — that is, what do you think is the best way to help their children?
TK: Don’t let it hold your children back. Let them try new things, tell them they can reach any dream they may have. Do not make a big deal about it and feel like it means you can't do something just because you cannot hear. One challenge for me used to be asking for help. I was very self-conscious and embarrassed if I could not hear directions or if I did not understand what someone was saying.  I was very embarrassed about not being able to hear. I also struggled with speech. As a preschooler, I was very difficult to understand. I would get very upset if you asked me to repeat what I said.
C: What do you think people would be surprised to know about your condition?
TK: My hearing loss has improved greatly. I receive a great benefit from keeping PE Tubes. I’ve also learned to adapt and ask for help when needed. Most people do not even notice that I have hearing loss. I was dismissed from speech therapy in third grade.  
C: Describe your role as the narrator in "Into the Woods." What was the most exciting/challenging part of the role?
TK: The most exciting part of being the narrator was being able to tell and create the story.  I loved the interaction with the cast.  It was so exciting for me to play a role alongside many adults that have been my role models for the past several years — one even being my voice teacher this year (Sam Wilcox/ The Baker's Wife).  This show has been my favorite so far. I loved every minute of being part of "Into the Woods." I am so grateful to Ms. Alayna for this opportunity and for all of her support.  It was really cool to get killed by a giant in the play.  The most challenging part of this role was memorizing the lengthy monologues and having to stay ahead of what was going to onstage to know what scene was coming up next.  
C: What will your next acting role be?
TK: I do not yet know what my next role will be. I’m very excited about upcoming auditions for plays in the fall. (smiling) It all depends on if the director chooses to cast me, what my future role will be.  I hope to have a role in the very near future. As for the immediate future, I’m excited about beginning middle school. I hope to be involved with community theater, CoroRio and Broadway Bound for many years to come.
C: What are your aspirations for the future?
TK: I dream of performing on Broadway one day. I will always keep time in my life for theater. My dream come true would be to become a lawyer and perform on stage at the same time.

 

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