This year, the Tony awards introduced the world to something most had never seen before: a musical told entirely through sign language. Deaf West’s revival of Spring Awakening was performed by deaf and hard of hearing performers, with some accompaniment for hearing audiences. The combination of signed and spoken words worked seamlessly on stage and brought awareness to the deaf community while racking up three Tony nominations.
This week, Dallas’ own Theatre Three kicked off The Novelist, a collaboration with Deaf Action Center. The ensemble “dramedy” about a cruelly destructive and fiercely protective family of artists centers on Paul, a seasoned novelist suffering from writer’s block.
This partnership begins a series of performances for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. One performance in each production of Theatre Three and Theatre Too’s season will have certified interpreters in place to sign the performance.
“Everyone at Theatre Three is pleased about our new collaboration with Deaf Action Center,” says Theatre Three managing director Merri Brewer. “We truly want everyone to feel at home at Theatre Three, and we are really seeking ways to create access for our community and our neighbors.”
The big move supports a group often left unrepresented when arts organizations talk about diversity and equity, and it makes the two organizations neighbors in more sense than one. The Deaf Action Center is located on Cedar Springs Road, just up the street from Theatre Three.
“It is exciting for us to be partnering with Theatre Three to bring more venues to the deaf and hard of hearing community that are normally inaccessible,” says Deaf Action Center communication access department manager Eric Patterson.
“To be able to work with another nonprofit organization whose mission statement aligns with ours in terms of ensuring community advancement through education and economic security is a treat," he continues. "We look forward to providing certified and qualified sign language interpreting services for Theatre Three so that more shows are made accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing.”
Additionally, Deaf Action Center and Theatre Three are currently developing a deaf-led event that is soon to be announced.
This unique approach to theater has roots going back to 1967, when the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) was formed, charged with dispelling stigma around deaf artists. “By placing sign language on stage, the National Theatre of the deaf showed the world that sign language was a beautiful, powerful, visual language," NTD says.
By including performances for deaf audiences, Theatre Three may create a larger dialogue around what it takes to make art accessible to every audience member. Many theaters provide listening devices to hard of hearing patrons, but putting signing artists on stage seems the perfect next step in the effort to bring theater, often quite visual, to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access.
The Novelist runs at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St.. through August 28. Tickets are $35 at theatre3dallas.com.