Naperville’s Magical Starlight Theatre actress making history

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Gretchen Gannon has been acting since elementary school, but this month, the deaf Magical Starlight Theatre (MST) actress makes a big step for her career in MST’s production of “Matilda The Musical.”

Creating Magical Starlight Theatre history

“This show really has impacted me a lot because I was able to sign and speak at the same time,” said Gannon. “Now, typically I don’t speak onstage, so that was a new experience for me.”

For the first time as an actress, Gannon plays a primary role where she speaks, as Mrs. Phelps, Matilda’s librarian friend. She’s also the first deaf actor or actress that’s had a primary speaking role at Magical Starlight Theatre, which started in 1995.

“It empowers me, actually. I just know for a fact that the Deaf (community) are really amazed with me on stage because I’m signing on stage,” said Gannon. Oftentimes, what happens with deaf, here in the area, we’re not signing. We have a tendency to either be an ensemble and just act in the ensemble.”

Gannon’s return to acting

Gannon mostly performed in deaf theatres, leading up to the birth of her son. She stopped acting and took the role of mom for 12 years, before returning to the stage in 2019. 

During her time away from acting, she said most deaf theatres had closed, but that didn’t stop her from returning to the stage. Anna Ahonen, who’s been in charge of over 200 shows during her career as a director, says this is the first time she’s had a deaf actress on stage. That hasn’t changed anything for her and the rest of the cast.

“They absolutely love it. And Naya, one of the Matildas, as well as Emma Cook, they actually sign with her and it’s wonderful,” said Ahonen. “J does too, one sign in the very beginning, the first number.”

The communication between Gannon and her interpreter

Gannon and American Sign Language interpreter, Patti Shore Kaden, have formed a special bond, being together for multiple performances over the years. The two can be heard giggling throughout the rehearsal, enjoying every moment with each other.

“We have to have a clear understanding of each other and trust is a big thing,” said Gannon. “It’s just good to have a good friend who I can just kind of go to if something happens and I need their help to smooth something out with another person.”

Matilda The Musical is running through this weekend, so there’s still time to catch this one-of-a-kind performance.

“To see Gretchen, Gretchen G. Gannon, on stage, in this role that she was born for. It’s a wonderful experience and we’re hoping more people will have the experience as well,” said Shore Kaden.

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