My Deaf Theatre Christmas List!

Erin Karll

  • OnStage St. Louis Columnist

Inspired by an increase in wish lists this time of year, a recent tweet by #deaftalent John McGinty about a musical workshop, a meme about ASLHamilton, and this years incredible move towards ASL accessibility in theatre, I have decided to create my own Christmas wish list for shows I want to see Deaf theatre companies produce. I am looking at my artist director/Santas DJ (Deaf West Theatre) and JW(New York Deaf Theatre). More to be added later.

Spring Awakening- First on my list has already been done, but I would see it again in a heart beat. This was a production that revealed new and deeper meaning with every viewing. The ASL masters, Spencer Liff, and Michael Arden created some wonder puns with signs ('TRUST' lowered so it looks like rope pulling Hanchi closer to Ernst.) I seriously felt like the was produced on so many levels. A hearing person could appreciate the music and voices and see the connections with the signs. Interpreters and CODAs(children of Deaf adults) could watch for the puns and deeper meanings. The Deaf audience could enjoy a full show without having to watch an interpreter off to stage left. The main point of the plot was the lack of connection between generations. Around 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Many do not learn ASL and have no real way to communicate with their child. That issue fits so well into having these children who have parents keeping secrets also having a language barrier.

RENT- A staple musical with a beautiful message about wanting to connect. Some deaf are under employed and would relate to the bohemian characters who struggle to make ends meet.  I am already picturing the signs for the double meaning of 'rent' that Jonathan Larson cleverly weaved into the plot. I also see shadow acting with voice actors and signers splitting the parts. That is a very simple way to explain it. For a wonderful example watch the recent Spring Awakening revival's Tony performance. You will see Sandra Mae Frank (signer) and Kate Boeck (voice) splitting 'Wendla' and Daniel Durant (signer) and Alex Boniello (voice) splitting 'Moritz'. I also promise to write more on this topic.

Tick Tick Boom- Yes, another Larson piece. The story of three friends living, loving, and still trying to figure it all out would be beautiful in sign language. A simple set with the band and voices off to the side of the stage would showcase the amazing #deaftalent and strong message of friendship.

First Date- This funny and sweet show is so adaptable. Simply add more seats to the set and have voice and singers ware the same colors so audience can connect the shadow actors. A happy coincidence is that the OBC 'Casey' Krysta Rodriguez is a Deaf West Theatre Alumni. This show could delve deep into Deaf culture and relationships. The couples could be hearing/Deaf, deaf/Deaf*, or many different combinations.

*The use of a lowercase 'd' mean someone who does not hear and does not sign or socialize with other Deaf people. The upper case 'D' shows the persons connection to Deaf Culture. The use ASL, socialize, advocate, and more.

American Idiot- This show needs to be revived and I can not think of a better way then with a Deaf Theatre. Heavy bass and drums are how many Deaf people enjoy music. They can feel the vibration. The topics of drug abuse, isolation, and anger are common in the Deaf community. Again I would go with a simple set. Ever since I saw a production in a black box I have been staging different songs for #deaftalent .  Ensemble members would be perfect to pop on and off stage as voices for signers. If you look at the original staging of 'too much too soon' 'Will' and 'Heather' could sign or sing and the ensemble members that pop up as their friends could cover what was needed.

Hamilton- Because what theatre list is complete without 'Hamilton'? The world needs as many productions of this prices professionally done as possible. When Marlee Matlin tweeted at Lin-Manuel that she would love to see his show if there was an interpreted night I waited for his reply on pins and needles. I know the Chicago production has been interpreted and the tour will be at most stops, but hear me out... A Deaf founding father? John Laurens signing with passion about equality? George Washington teaching us how to say goodbye in ASL? This piece has already broken so much ground by connecting a new generation to government and turning the founding fathers into something more then old men in paintings. This could be one more step to show that Deaf can do anything but hear.

West Side Story- This show is ready made for the culture clashes that happen everyday between Deaf and hearing. The story of forbidden love with someone from another culture and a divided group that does not even try to understand others is a perfect example and can easily be used with a Deaf/hearing relationship.