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ESC hearing-impaired student makes film debut

By Samantha Donegan
ESC Communications

The ESC has a rising starlet in its classrooms.

  Click to enlarge  
  Tova Stewart mug.  
  Tova Stewart working on a scene on the set of "Take Shelter." Tova is enrolled in the ESC Hearing Impaired program.  

Tova Stewart is a hearing-impaired second grade student in the ESC Hearing impaired program at Windermere Elementary School in Upper Arlington. She is also an actress whose first film, “Take Shelter,” opens this week on Nov. 4 at the Drexel Theater in Bexley. 
However, Tova did not set out to be an actress.

The film’s producer, Tyler Davidson, reached out to the Ohio School for the Deaf looking for a young hearing-impaired female student and the school contacted Tova’s mother, Julie Stewart, about the casting. After meeting with Davidson and Director Jeff Nichols, Tova and Julie traveled to the production office in Chagrin Falls for a screen test.

After what Julie described as a long week, the family received an email offering Tova the role of the daughter of two leading characters.

The movie was shot in 42 locations throughout Northern Ohio in 24 days. There was an on-set interpreter who was always by Tova’s side.

Despite the long, crazy hours, Julie said it was better than sending Tova to a movie camp and was an amazing experience seeing how the movie was made.

“We were constantly amazed by how Tova interacted with her movie parents and the director,” Julie said. “It was like she had been doing the movies her whole life.”

  Click to enlarge  
  Tova Stewart interacting with another actor on the film set.  
  ESC student Tova Stewart works with actor Michael Shannon on the film set of "Take Shelter."  

Julie was concerned Tova would be frightened because of the storyline, so her and her husband, Terry, communicated with Tova about what was happening in the scenes she would be working that day. Julie said Tova handled it all very well.

“Take Shelter” is set in a small town in Ohio, where a husband and father (played by Michael Shannon) has apocalyptic dreams, but keeps them from his wife (played by Jessica Chastain) and their daughter (played by Tova). He focuses on building a storm shelter, but the strange behavior puts tension on his relationships. As he builds the shelter, Shannon’s character fears there’s truth in his dreams.

Julie remembered one night when Shannon had an intense scene and was concerned about Tova being afraid of him.

“He came to me asking how to sign ‘I’m okay, you okay?’ and I watched him along with Jessica Chastain checking in with Tova to be sure they all are okay.” Julie said. “They developed a wonderful relationship that I felt really showed in the movie.”

Julie is now sending Tova’s information to several talent agencies. Tova lives in Worthington with her parents, who are also deaf.

"I have enjoyed being in the movie,” Tova said. “I learned that we sometimes have to try again and again for the acting part to get a good scene. I loved performing with Jessica and Michael." 

“Take Shelter” is currently in limited release and getting great reviews. It was screened in May at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the press’ top honor, Critics’ Week Grand Prix.



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