The 574 Theatre Company, located in Mishawaka, Indiana, is rehearsing a new production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods; the staging will feature a new American Sign Language translation of the show’s book and lyrics.
Directed by 574 Artistic Director Alex Price, the cast is made up of seven Deaf actors who perform the principal roles of the Baker, the Baker’s Wife, the Witch, Jack, the Narrator/Mysterious Man, the Wolf/Steward, and Cinderella's Stepmother/Jack's Mother, as well as two licensed ASL interpreters as Cinderella and Little Red. Each signing actor has a vocal counterpart who shadows them onstage. Voicing actors also take the lead for the roles of Rapunzel, the Princes, and Milky White, with licensed interpreters as their shadows.
Into the Woods is the inaugural production of the company’s Deaf Theatre Project. Price and 574 Executive Director Joshua Maurer launched the company two years ago while undergrads at Bethel University. The school is among the ever-growing number of universities to offer degrees in Sign Language interpreting.
A team of licensed interpreters and ASL teachers worked on the translation for three months, refining moments in order to match the written text as well as mood and tempo.
“We have a very vibrant d/Deaf community in South Bend and Northern Indiana who is severely underserved in the way of performing arts. Every now and then, a production will provide ASL interpreters, but it's not very often,” Price explained. “We wanted to not only provide a production for the d/Deaf community to watch, but also to participate in. Many of our deaf actors are taking the stage for the very first time. Our rehearsals have been such an incredible process. Most of our voicing cast have never met someone who is deaf. So to see language barriers broken by writing on note pads, texting, and gesturing has been astonishing.”
Performances run June 6–8 at the Battell Community Center Auditorium. Visit 574Theatre.com.