The school is Gallaudet University, a well-regarded university for deaf students. The Philly troupe is the Amaryllis Theatre Company, which works with both deaf and hearing actors on a regular basis.
The production, which translates the Bard's comedy into American Sign Language, began running at Gallaudet's Elstad Auditorium April 20 and will continue there until April 30. It will then travel to Philadelphia May 9-13.
According to press notes, the project began in 2003 when Amaryllis started working on its second ASL Shakespeare production. Its first was Twelfth Night, produced in 2001.
"This time we wanted very much to open the project to students from Gallaudet," explains Mimi Kenney Smith, producing artistic director of Amaryllis and the director of the production. "Unlike hearing students around the world who read Shakespeare in English or in scholarly translations, Deaf students do not have the opportunity to study Shakespeare in their native language. Even though most are bi-lingual, Shakespeare is difficult for all students. When you communicate primarily through your body and eyes instead of through your voice and ears, reading Shakespeare's complicated poetic language becomes that much more difficult, and except for Twelfth Night, scholarly translations in ASL simply do not exist."
The production of Much Ado is acted in synchronized American Sign Language and spoken English, making the show accessible to all audiences. Performing in the co-production are three students from Gallaudet: JoAnn Benfield (Hero), Russell Harvard (Claudio), and Rachel Rose (Messenger, Seacoal). Also performing in the production are Theatre Department faculty members Willy Conley and Angela Farrand.
Professional actors include Paul Savas (Don John), Darren Frasier (Benedick), Megg Davis (Beatrice) and Robert Schliefer (Don Pedro). The latter three all appeared in the DeafWest tour of Big River, perhaps the most famous deaf and hearing stage production ever mounted. Patrick Graybill plays Leonato, and Joy Mincey Powell is Margaret.
Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://depts.gallaudet.edu/theatre or by calling (877) 651-5501. Groups should contact TicketLeap at (215) 525-1300, ext. 575, reference: Much Ado.
In the Philadelphia area, Much Ado will run for six performances at Hobson C. Wagner Auditorium, Conestoga High School. Tickets in Philadelphia are $25 for weekends; $20 for weekdays and Saturday matinee. Discounts are available for students and seniors. Tickets are available on www.amaryllistheatre.org. Groups should contact Patrick Doran at (215) 717-2173 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.