CULTURE & ARTS
09/22/2014 12:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sign Language Theater Company Stages Remarkable New Musical

When the curtain falls on this theater company's empowering new production, many of the actors won't be able to hear the applause.

The Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles is incorporating both hearing and deaf actors in its beautiful production of "Spring Awakening." A combination of speech, song and sign language will push the story the forward, an effort that the theater describes as equalizing.

"No one language will take precedence in this production," Shoshannah Stern, the actress overseeing the American Sign Language in the performance, explained with a smile in the company's initial video casting call.

Deaf West's plays and musicals are known for using actors with some kind of hearing loss, as well as actors who have no hearing loss at all. "We have 9 deaf actors in the show," David Kurs, the company's artistic director, told The Huffington Post. "They have varying degrees of hearing loss, but they all identify as deaf."

"Spring Awakening" is a rock musical that launched on Broadway in 2006 and is based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 play of the same name. It tells the story of 19th-century German youths struggling to understand their changing bodies and desires at a time when frank discussion of sexuality was taboo.

“The show is very much about not being able to communicate between parents and kids. So there’s a great metaphor, a beautiful metaphor with it being done with this particular set of actors," Deaf West's "Awakening" score composer Duncan Sheik said, per The Hollywood Reporter.

"It takes place during a particularly dark time within the deaf community," Kurs told HuffPost. "During the late 19th century, deaf children did not receive education in sign language. I also feel the story brings to light common experiences within our community -- gaps in communication, the fraught relationship between deaf children and their hearing parents, and teenagers navigating a world without strong guidance."

Director Michael Arden has high hopes for the new production.

"I’d like people to have a bit more knowledge about deaf culture and ASL as a language. Specifically, how art and theater can break barriers. Working with both deaf and hearing people makes the show in a sense, bilingual. It forces us to come together," Arden told theater blog The Playbill Collector.

The company's production of "Spring Awakening" will have a limited fall run at the Rosenthal Theater in Los Angeles. Already it's had quite an impact on L.A. Times theater critic F. Kathleen Foley, who recently called the show "[c]ompositionally spectacular and emotionally truthful."

Watch the video above to see the astounding way Deaf West incorporates sign language into its blocking and choreography.

h/t Spring Awakening Blog

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