By Julie Zeilinger
May 22, 2015
Some may think a good musical theater experience requires the audience to hear every note performed, but groundbreaking theater company Deaf West is challenging this notion with its adaptation of Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening.
The Los Angeles-based company — reportedly the first professional resident Sign Language Theater in the western U.S. — has been staging shows featuring hearing and deaf actors since it was founded in 1991. While all of their productions have certainly been innovative, the theater’s current production of Spring Awakening, directed by Michael Arden and currently in its second run at the Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center, is being hailed as something truly special — especially for its largely unprecedented approach to incorporating deafness into the production.
Deafness isn’t just accommodated, it’s incorporated. Most well-intentioned efforts to welcome individuals with disabilities involve making mainstream institutions, spaces and/or experiences accessible. Often, individuals with disabilities can exist in these spaces, but they’re not truly integrated into them, as evidenced, for example, by the addition of a sign language interpreter or, in theater, separate performance communities for the disabled.