Aleksandr Rozentsvit is a 23-year-old student at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and a big fan of Broadway musicals. He attended his first show on the Great White Way, The Lion King, when he was five. But unlike most five-year-olds, his experience was more of a visual display than usual. Rozentsvit is Deaf, and that performance was a special interpreted one. Since 1979, the Theater Development Fund's Theater Accessibility Program has been offering sign language interpreting at select performances for Deaf theatregoers and those with hearing loss who use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication. But this season, Rozentsvit didn't need to choose a select performance to see Broadway's Spring Awakening. In this letter, Rozentsvit describes his experience attending Deaf West Theatre's revival of the 2006 rock musical.
I was born Deaf, and I am the only Deaf person in my family. When I was younger and went to a non-interpreted play, I would have to rely on my mother, who would try her best to interpret the show for me. It was hard for her to translate, especially trying to get the show concepts. I was exposed to more interpreted plays when I attended Lexington School for the Deaf in Jackson Heights, NY. I remember going to Manhattan's New Victory Theater and enjoying interpreted plays on school trips. The interpreters for New Victory Theater are always top-notch and specifically experienced in interpreting pieces of theatre. Likewise, Broadway interpreters work hard to translate scripts to pure American Sign Language. (And before 1979, Deaf patrons could only rely on their friends or even their own children to "interpret" plays for them.)
Spring Awakening provided full access in American Sign Language with what felt like voice translation for the hearing audience — almost like a reverse effect. I saw a mix of Deaf and hearing patrons that night, which was cool to see. Usually, I'm surrounded by hearing people in shows, or Deaf people at interpreted plays.
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The show itself achieved the concepts of the lyrics, and I could see that they used an American Sign Language specialist to match the lyrics and make better expressions, matching the script concepts — not just a direct translation. I loved the overall interpretation of the songs. How they conveyed the story just blew me away. The show touched me. It resonated with me because the actors were using American Sign Language. I could even relate to their experiences because the characters in the story were Deaf.
My favorite part, though, was the extra loud music because that's how Deaf people love their music! EXTRA LOUD, BABY! You could see your water bottle shaking. I felt the vibration all over, and it clicked with me. I loved feeling connected to it.
I had read so many articles about Deaf West's production on the West Coast. I dreamed that the show would be on the East Coast, and my dream came true. I felt the hearing community learned about Deaf theatre and culture through this. What perfect timing, since it's the 25th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act, which granted equal opportunity to my community.