Not many people would think that the deaf community could make it in the acting industry, but Deaf West from North Hollywood, California is changing all of that. Their performances incorporate American Sign Language with English translations so that members of the deaf community (completely deaf or hard-of-hearing) can participate in theater...because, well, why not?
Does 'Deaf West' sound familiar to you? It should, because just this past year the company created their own take on the Tony Award-winning musical "Spring Awakening" (originally starring "Glee" star Lea Michelle and "Hamilton" performer Jonathan Groff). The show became so popular that it moved out to the East Coast to perform on Broadway!
Starting at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Sept. 8, 2015, for previews and opening Sept. 27, 2015, tickets came in such a high demand that the closing date got pushed back by two weeks. The musical ended (sadly) Jan. 24, 2016, but there is a tour in the works for 2017.
I was lucky enough to see the show a few weeks ago and it absolutely surpassed my expectations. I've always been intrigued by sign language and the way the production's choreographer, Spencer Liff, incorporates signs into the numbers is mesmerizing. Plus, with 25 people making their Broadway debut in this show, the excitement is contagious. This show doesn't treat disabilities as plot points either -- the cast works together to create a visually appealing performance anyone can enjoy.
But I know, you're asking another question, "How does the musical work?" Well here's the insanely cool thing, the hearing actors play the "voices" of the characters while the deaf actors sign their lines. It was incredible to see how many members of the deaf community were there to see the show (there was even a school trip at my show too), and because of the genius from director Michael Arden and the creative team of Deaf West, they were able to enjoy the musical as well. There were even some scenes completely in sign language, with the words projected onto the stage.
Although the show is over on Broadway, take a look at their performance of one of the show-stopping tunes, "Touch Me" on "Late Night" with Seth Meyers.
This show is so important, especially with the amazing diversity Broadway has been exhibiting this season. By incorporating the deaf community into this show, it doesn't make you question if it would work. It makes you question why isn't it happening more often? I'm excited to see what Deaf West does next and I know I'll be a big fan.