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Wednesday, March 18, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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And The Oscar Goes To . . . -- Deaf Teacher/Actor To Attend Academy Awards Ceremony -- Teaching Without Speaking

Seattle Times South Bureau

SEATAC - When the 70th Academy Awards ceremony hits the airwaves Monday night, Tyee High School teacher Howie Seago will be watching intently, but not from the comfort of his couch. He will witness the ceremony live at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium.

Seago, who is deaf and teaches American Sign Language part time at Tyee, landed a role in "Jenseits der Stille," a German production nominated for best foreign film.

The film, which in English is "Beyond Silence," is a melodrama about a girl with normal hearing struggling to break free from the dependency of her deaf parents. Seago plays the girl's father.

The film has been shown on a limited basis in the United States, including two screenings at last year's Seattle International Film Festival. Seago said Miramax has bought the U.S. distribution rights and will begin marketing "Jenseits" after the Oscars.

The plot is especially poignant for deaf people, Seago said. Until President Bush signed the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990, deaf parents often had to rely on their hearing children to resolve certain matters. An 8-year-old, for instance, might have gone to court to interpret for her father facing criminal charges. Now courts must provide an interpreter.

When the film was released, Seago said many hearing Germans who grew up with deaf parents tearfully marveled over how closely the movie mirrored their lives.

Seago and his wife, Lori Seago, who can hear, have two sons, 12-year-old Ryan and 8-year-old Kyle. Both boys hear, but they have "selective hearing," their father said with a grin.

The movie's Oscar nomination astounded Seago, a member of the Seattle-based Deaf Moose Theatre. Still, he's not planning to quit his day job anytime soon. He knows better.

"I've been through this before," said Seago, who has intelligible speech but receives interview questions through a sign-language interpreter. The first time came after he played a role in an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." He thought that television appearance would lead to plenty of work. It didn't.

"The reality is deaf people don't get much work," Seago said.

That's because hearing film producers know little about deaf culture. What's especially distasteful to Seago is that the few deaf characters who are written into scripts typically are portrayed as victims.

Seago, a native of Tacoma, stumbled onto the stage when he was a student at California State University, Northridge. His roommate asked him to appear in a play, but Seago hesitated because he was only a couple years into learning sign language.

He took the role and went on to movies. He landed the lead role in Peter Sellers' "Ajax." Then there was "Star Trek" and other television appearances. Caroline Link, director of "Jenseits," saw some of his work and recruited Seago, who had to learn to sign in German.

Next month Seago and his family will travel to Japan, where "Jenseits" has been nominated in the best foreign film category in the Japanese equivalent of the Oscars.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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