Working with the deaf and hard of hearing

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January 13, 2009
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Has anyone done theatre using a deaf actor and a speaking actor playing the same role. I understand when Big River was on Broadway it was done that way and I wondered how it worked. Right now I have a deaf actress playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and I'd love to consider her for another show. Any ideas or insight would be helpful.
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Staff Answer
February 26, 2011
I am student at National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology at Rochester, New York. I am also Master Electrician for Panara Theatre. DeafWest is one of great threater which well known.

February 1, 2010
Well, I took a year of sign language, and that was very helpful. It doesn't take many signs to be able to communicate what you want to say. You can always find someone who knows sign language, or there are websites that show you the signs you need, just type in the word.

September 13, 2009
What you're referring to is usually called shadowing. I've worked on productions where deaf and hearing performers essentially played the same role - I think it works best when the "performance" switches back and forth between the two actors, so they each have the opportunity to "play" the role, while the other "shadows", or translates.

September 9, 2009
I saw Big River at the Roundabout with the 1/2 deaf, 1/2 hearing cast. It was phenomenal!!! Let's see if I can remember exactly how they did it. Huck Finn was deaf - he signed his part. It was spoken by Mark Twain, who acted as narrator for him. As I recall, the Twain character sat DSR and spoke to the audience when he was himself, then turned US toward the Huck Finn character and spoke Huck's lines as Huck signed them. The entire production was very well done. Oh, BTW - The actor who played Twain was the original Huck Finn in the first Broadway production of Big River!

September 9, 2009
WOW, Last year we did Cinderella with a deaf actress in the title role and a hearing actress as her shadow/double. Both girls were dressed exactly the same and both played the character. I also added a "story teller" who signed all of the other characters in all of the scenes with Cinderella. It was pretty amazing. The experience was great for all involved and we actually were on the local news channel.

June 26, 2009
I definitely agree with looking up Deaf West; they'd probably be very helpful. I'm glad you want to use her in other shows! A deaf actor playing a hearing character has so much room to interpret the character in a very different way, which affects the whole production. I hope you keep us updated!

January 14, 2009
the production company was called Deaf West, i believe they did one other show. if you google search deaf west big river, a youtube clip will come up, along with various sites that have information the website for the company is www.deafwest.org i hope this helps you :)