Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director, Mark Taper Forum: “When we produced Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God at the Mark Taper Forum 20 years ago, before we brought it to Broadway, it was not just another production; the experience changed the entire culture of the theatre. We brought Ken Brecher, a cultural anthropologist, on staff at that time as Associate Artistic Director to work with us. The impact of sign language and Deaf culture was integrated into the theatre at every level: in addition to serving the needs of Deaf artists in the production such as providing certified interpreters for the audition and rehearsal period, the Mark Taper staff was offered sign language classes, the box office was trained regarding the needs of Deaf audience members and ways to communicate effectively, we purchased a TDD for the box office and for the marketing department, we established a marketing initiative to attract and serve Deaf audiences and hired a Deaf staff member to run it – a program still in place today, and we established a policy of providing signed performances for all of our mainstage productions.”
Linda Hartzell, Artistic Director, Seattle Children’s Theatre: Years ago, Billy Seago and Howie Seago approached us about creating a Deaf Youth Drama Program. They secured a large Department of Education grant. (Previously, we had provided sign interpreted performances.) We started in earnest with productions employing Deaf actors and teaching and mentoring Deaf students by Deaf artists. Eventually the grant money came to an end. We had no outside means to continue it, but we decided to preserve and support the educational aspect of the program and Billy and Howie have done a great deal of work in funding their program through grants. It is still the only program of its kind in the greater Seattle area. It has had a huge impact on our school-age Deaf community in particular. And we have developed and kept a Deaf audience for our sign interpreted performances.
Now we have a resident interpreter who is also our Deaf Youth Drama Program Manager. He offers ASL classes to our staff once a week for a nominal fee. So, bit-by-bit, we are becoming more conversant in this language and culture.
We have quite a large Deaf audience base because we have offered sign interpreted performances of every production for years. However, when sign is incorporated into the main thrust of the performance, it makes a huge difference in the Deaf audience member’s experience.”