Talk Less, Sign More

Erin Karll

  • Missouri Columnist

I needed some time to compose myself after last week’s #ham4ham “talk less, sign more”. The video was released on September 21, and here is the link for you to see yourself. If you don’t know, now you know. 

Cast members from Hamilton and New York Deaf Theatre joined forces to produce an accessible version of “Cabinet Battle #2” from the hit musical. While this is not the first time #ham4ham has used sign language (looking at you Andy Mientus and Krysta Rodriguez) this is the most ambitious project showing #DeafTalent.  George Washington is played by Alexandria Wailes (signing) and Nik Walker (voicing). Thomas Jefferson is played by Jubil Kahn (signing) and Jevon McFerrin (voicing). Alexander Hamilton is played by Shelly Guy (signing) and Michael Luwoye (voicing). Samantha Coleman performs the signs and voice for ‘James Madison’. 

From their website, NEW YORK DEAF THEATRE (NYDT) was established over 35 years ago by Deaf theatre artists to create opportunities for the production of a dramatic art form that was not found elsewhere in New York City: plays in American Sign Language (ASL). NYDT’s main goal is to give Deaf and hard of hearing artists in the New York City area a cultural, creative, and artistic home. We strive to create theatre that gives more opportunities for Deaf artists (actors, creators, and designers) and see our audiences expand and have a deeper appreciation and understanding of our beloved Deaf culture. JW Guido, artist director for New York Deaf Theatre says “HAM4HAM is a true example of a company giving opportunities to Deaf actors. Already having a diverse cast, they welcome even more diversity with our female Deaf talent…We wanted to show that no matter who performs these roles, no matter their appearance or hearing ability, the talent can shine through. ...One of my favorite moments in this journey was seeing the NYDT team truly collaborate and develop a unique ASL style.”

After the recent casting controversy at Theatre Cedar Rapids with their production of “Tribes” this short video shows what can happen when artist work together and create. I am still trying to put into words why it is so important for deaf roles to be played by Deaf Talent. Many others have spoken out recently with ‘colorblind casting’ of certain shows that have characters based in specific ethnic groups. Differences matter a lot less when we take the time to understand each other. TCR’s issue with lack of outreach and short production times shows that sometime we must ‘wait for it’ when it comes an accurate production. I’m not saying that once a character’s background is set it cannot be changed, but care must be taken and the community discussed must be brought in to consult.

Catch Hamilton, if you can, at the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York or the PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago. Check out New York Deaf Theatre’s newest production ‘Titus’ that starts October 30th at the Hudson Guild Theatre. For ticket and show details check out #ham4ham and #deaftalent are excellent sources for information and videos of impressive talent.