This is the story of how a play got produced. In spite of a modest award for the play when it was a one-act, encouragement from other playwrights and others, multiple submissions to theaters with calls for (what I thought was) My Perfect Fit with this play, it had not yet been produced.
Until that is, I connected with a non-arts nonprofit that wanted to offer the people it serves an arts experience relatable to their own concerns. Does that sound too fuzzy, if not impossible? Fraught with landmines? Too much of a hassle since they weren’t theater people?
Not at all. It was a lot of work – producing a play always is – but it was in every sense an absolute pleasure. Fun! I found a partner with boundless enthusiasm that threw its considerable talent into the project with commitment. We got along great. We liked each other. We all did our part. Not impossible at all!
The organization was ThinkSelf, which offers culturally appropriate bilingual education, programming and advocacy services to Deaf and DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard of Hearing adults. But why would they want to take this on? I knew nothing, really, of this community – one with not just its own language, but its own culture – but I soon learned that this truly is an underserved population in the arts. Yes, many plays will have interpreters for select performances, but where are the opportunities to see an entire play performed in American Sign Language by Deaf actors? All of it? Not just a Deaf character? The answer: not often – and that’s a colossal understatement.
So, why would ThinkSelf want this play? It’s not about being deaf, and it has no deaf characters. The answer was a shocker to me. The play’s topic is verbal and emotional abuse, and in the communities served by ThinkSelf, the incidence of abuse – in all forms – is significantly higher. Way, way higher. I had no idea.
But how did I get to this point? A little more than two years ago, I had a completed script. Since the play, in a sense, is about how our means of communication impacts our lives, the idea of involving deaf actors lodged itself in a corner of my brain, and instead of melting away, as some ideas do, this one kept growing and reappearing in my thoughts. It seemed it wanted to be done, so I investigated. By emailing and/or calling lots of people, I eventually connected with Erin Gardner, who, as an actor and ASL interpreter, was exactly the right person to bring me into this world.
Discussions were fruitful, an agreement was reached. ThinkSelf secured a grant, handled the contracts, marketing, and dozens of other tasks, including lining up interpreters and managing video production. I served as the theater liaison, helping to line up our staff, find a venue and deal with theater-related questions.
Co-performed in American Sign Language and spoken English by deaf and hearing actors on stage and in video sequences, the production was designed to be fully accessible to Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences. I have never seen a production like it, and I would presume most, if not all, of our audiences would say the same. It was an experiment, a plunging-into-the-unknown, led with calm assurance by director Scotty Reynolds, who really did create something completely new: two characters played by four actors in two different languages, simultaneously.
The result was a sold-out run. I would estimate that at least half of our audience was Deaf or DeafDisabled, with a good number of hearing people fluent in ASL there, as well. It terms of reaching the audience intended, we were a smash.
No, this production wasn’t the play I pictured when I wrote it. It was a lot more. Definitely different, but unimaginably bigger. If you are so fortunate as to find a non-arts nonprofit amenable to a theater project, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take this production alternative seriously. I would happily consider a production with another non-arts nonprofit, and if the murmurings of remount or new project with ThinkSelf are real, I’m in.