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April 8, 2005

JC & Friends: Deaf West Theatre

From: W*USA 9, DC - Apr 8, 2005

Written by JC Hayward
Last Updated: 4/8/2005 7:08:05 PM

Next Thursday, will mark the 140th anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated the President as he watched a performance at Ford's theatre.

In an effort to continue their commitment this season - to highlight work that looks pass our differences - Ford Theatre is presenting a production that bridges a communications gap. JC & Friends takes a look at "Big River."

Big River, the adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the beautiful adaptation of the Mark Twain classic. Co-produced by Deaf West Theatre, it is unique.

"We've got both the American Sign language and the voicing of the hearing actors on stage. And that's really how Big River came to be. It's a melting, a sharing of cultures between hearing and deaf people and a sharing of communications." The founder and artistic director of Deaf West Theatre, Ed Waterstreet explains how deaf, hard of hearing and hearing artists participate.

A third language; signing, singing, and the spoken word, is created. In the process, Big River is addressing another issue.

"We can compare this to a lot of what happens in the cultural diversity between black and white cultures. And how relationships can happen how communications can happen, how sharing can happen between different people."

The story takes place in the pre-civil war south and tells the relationship between a runaway slave, Jim who can hear and Huck who is deaf, played by Christopher Corrigan.

"I have to remember too, that when I'm dealing with an audience who is hearing and deaf and I'm using my language, I have to communicate fully with everybody. I have to be more expressive, I have to shift my body a certain way. I have to use my body fully and I like that challenge," Corrigan explained.

Ed Waterstreet and his wife, Linda Bove who is also deaf started their company 15 years ago in Los Angeles. They wanted to fill a void, leave a legacy and create opportunities for deaf artists. Waterstreet was always reminded of growing up in a hearing family...and going to the theatre.

He recalls, "I would sit there and watch all this was going on stage, see all the mouth movement of the singers and emotions on their faces and it really made me puzzled and curious about why hearing people are getting so much out of this. And I always thought 'someday, someday it would be really great to have a musical production done in American Sign Language,' And here we are today."

When the production was presented on Broadway in 1985 it won the Tony award for best musical. Last year after being revived on Broadway, it won a Tony for excellence in Theatre.

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