Theatre Actors Blend Spoken English, American Sign Language To Give Audience Unique Experience

SHERMAN OAKS (CBSLA.com)  — A theatre company blends spoken English and American Sign Language together on-stage to give the audience a unique storytelling experience.

The Deaf West Theatre, which was found in 1991, is noted as being the “first professional resident Sign Language Theatre in the western United States,” according to its website.

The theatre’s newest production, “Flowers for Algernon,” is adapted from the original, but in their version, character Charlie Gordon is not only mentally challenged, but hearing impaired, as well.

Actor Daniel Durant plays Charlie.

“Wonderful, wonderful experience working on this show,” he said through an interpreter. “I mean, I had heard about Deaf West. I flew out for the audition. For two days, I auditioned, I met everyone and I flew back. And later when I got the role, I was shocked. I mean, this is professional theatre.”

Durant shares the role of Charlie with two voice actors, including 16-year-old Sean Eaton and veteran actor Josh Breslow.

“It’s definitely the most challenging part and the most rewarding part of the experience. Because we are working together to create a full character,” said Breslow.

Durant added, “Well, I mean, at first, we got to go through the script and rehearse that. And then you start sitting down with each other. I’ve got my ASL lines, which may be longer than what he needs to speak for me, but every day, we’ve got to mesh that up and work on the beats and make the adjustments. It’s something you do every day and it just really smoothes out and works out in the end.”

Hearing-impaired actress Hilary Baak plays Alice.

“It’s been challenging and a lot of fun, as well, making sure that my voice is heard, as well as my signs seen, and matching the ASL translation with the English script,” she said.

Matthew McCray, the director of the play, doesn’t know sign language.

“So when I want to talk to them, I am going through an interpreter. I may, in some cases, try to go direct without the interpreter, either because I feel like I want to connect with them, especially with Daniel who is playing Charlie,” he said.

Durant said he’s creating his own voice and chasing his dream.

“I say don’t give up. Go for it. Go for your dream. There (are) always challenges, but you’ve got to break through that. There are obviously frustrations, but you’ve got to believe in yourself,” he said.

“Flowers for Algernon” opens Sept. 28 and runs through Nov. 3 at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

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