September 2008 - November 2008: Issue 28
A Special Issue On Deaf Performing Arts


Professional Sign Language Theatres

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Deaf West, Los Angeles, California
Ed Waterstreet, Artistic Director/CEO

Head shot of Ed Waterstreet (Artistic Director/CEO of Deaf West) smiling.

Deaf West Theatre, Inc., (DWT) was founded in 1991 to improve and enrich the cultural lives of the 1.2 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals who live in the Los Angeles area. DWT is recognized as the premiere sign language theatre in the US and has consistently set the standard for innovation in deaf theatre. It is the only resident deaf theatre in the western United States and only one of a few successful sign language production companies in the country. It holds the most theatre production awards of any deaf theatre in the nation with over 80 industry awards. DWT provides exposure and access to professional theatre, filling a void for deaf artists and audiences. Seventy percent of the theatergoers who attend DWT performances are hearing.

DWT utilizes an ASL team to work on the translation from the written text to American Sign Language for any musical adaptation. This process requires careful attention to preserving the integrity of ASL while adhering to the script as written. In addition to executing the translation, the ASL Master must see that it appropriately reflects the actor and the character portrayed. The ASL Master then works with each actor to ensure that the playwright's intentions, tone, rhythm, poetry, idiomatic expressions, and humor are all reflected in each actor's signing. In rehearsal, actors both deaf and hearing have the opportunity to learn to be in synch musically for group numbers. For solos, deaf actors set up visual cues with their voice counterparts.

Future plans for DWT include a new musical adaptation of "Pippin" to be co-produced with Center Theatre Group, opening in January 2009. DWT continues to provide educational programming, community outreach and resident productions at its North Hollywood space.


National Theatre Of The Deaf (NTD), West Hartford, CT
Aaron Kubey, Executive Director/President

Head shot of Aaron Kubey (Executive Director/President) smiling.

In 1967, six people bought tickets to see the first performance of the NTD, and most of them did it out of curiosity. Forty years and one Tony Award later, the NTD has performed across the globe from New York to New Delhi. NTD is the oldest continually producing touring theatre company in the United States.

NTD is currently performing The Little Theatre of the Deaf (LTD), its children/family theatre wing. It also offers workshops for a variety of groups, including school children, sign language interpreters and theatre students. In addition, it conducts residencies at public and private schools and schools for deaf children across the nation.

Many of the plays are written and directed by Deaf artists. It is also part of NTD's mission to produce theatrically challenging work of the highest quality, drawing from as wide a range of the world's literature as possible; to perform these original works in a style that links American Sign Language with the spoken word; to seek, train and employ Deaf artists; to offer our work to as culturally diverse and inclusive an audience as possible; to open their eyes and ears to Deaf culture and build linkages that facilitate involvement in our methods of work.

Some of the toughest challenges for NTD, as it is for the theatre industry across the board, are continuing to get financial support from the government (local, state or federal) and corporate/individual donors. Since the Department of Education has specifically cut education funding from Deaf theatre companies, their training programs have been on hiatus.

Future plans include mounting the first Main Stage production in the past six years in June 2009, bringing back the Actor's Academy, and developing a Deaf Theatre Conservatory program.