I had the pleasure of attending the Deaf West Theater's revival of, "Spring Awakening." This musical is a coming-of-age story set in 19th century Germany. It is about teenagers who are exploring and trying to understand themselves and the world around them while living in a very sheltered society. This production is special because the show is done in both English and American Sign Language. A majority of the cast members are also Deaf and hard of hearing actors and actresses.
Back in 2006, the first "Spring Awakening" production made its debut on Broadway. Now almost 10 years later it has made its way back to the great white way, but with a whole new interpretation.
The show was originally set to exclusively go up in LA only. This was until producer Ken Davenport was amazed by this production when he saw it a few months ago in California. He knew that it had to go to New York straight away. Deaf West Theater has been performing shows for over 20 years in places all over the country and overseas. It is a company that crafts shows for sign language and spoken language to come together and create beautiful pieces of art for everyone to enjoy.
Artistic Director, DJ Kurs says, “Music isn’t an art form typically available to the deaf community. In this production we are not just bringing sign language to hearing people. We are bringing musicals into the deaf community as well. We have to make music accessible to a deaf audience. One thing we work hard to do is bring the emotion and the fabric of the musical and the story into the language that we use to perform the music.”
The director of "Spring Awakening," Michael Arden said that he wanted to create a show for all audiences. He praises the actors, musicians, dancers, and designers that he has worked with in this production. The outcome and reactions from this production are more than anyone could have asked for. People have flown out to LA and NYC from all over the country to see this spectacular musical.
In terms of the show, there is one deaf actor and one hearing actor to almost every character. While the deaf actor portrays the character's emotion through sign, the hearing actor portrays the unheard voice of the character. Many of the actors and actresses depend on visual cues. Some of the cues are merely little nods of the head or waiting for another actor to stand up. It creates a unique and connective experience for audiences. This company has done an amazing job at bringing the deaf and hearing communities together.
One of the first scenes of the show connects the deaf culture aspect to the time period of the story. In this classroom scene, it is understood that students are restricted from signing anything. We see a hearing student secretly sign to the deaf students while the teacher is looking the other way. At one point in the scene one of the deaf students is asked by the teacher to recite the work to the class. The student begins to sign and the teacher chastises the boy and makes him speak it instead.
I have seen this musical performed by numerous professional and nonprofessional companies over the years. Audiences are not only able to hear the music, but they can see it as well. I was moved by this particular performance for it was unlike any other production of "Spring Awakening" I had ever seen. The show is primarily about the absence of communication between children and parents. In this Broadway revival, an even bigger gap of miscommunication is seen when you put together hearing and deaf characters. People are left behind and the theme of communication is profoundly emphasized.
The show opened on September 27, 2015, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City. Newsday said it was "revelatory and moving," and Associated Press called it "electrifying and exhilarating." This is a limited engagement, so go get tickets as soon as you possibly can before they sell out! I am thrilled I was able to go see the show before the run was over. Its breathtaking and a beautiful piece of art.