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Experiences of a New Theater-Goer

by Branden Huxtable

Originally published in the April 1995 issue of the CSCDHH GA Newsletter


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A few weeks ago, some hearing friends and I planned to see the interpreted performance of Cabaret. I tried to order five tickets, but the box office kept placing me on hold. On of my friends finally called herself, but the only good seats were in the cry room. After ordering the tickets, I realized that I made other plans for that day. I felt bad. I promised to make up for all the hassle by ordering tickets for Jolson Sings Again. Except, I was three days too late.

Theater-going is a new experience for me. Since growing up hard of hearing and becoming deaf, I have attended almost no plays. Before ADA, assistive listening devices as a norm were unheard of. Even now, infrared sound, which most theaters use, is too low for me. On top of that, I learned sign language late in life. So during this time, besides school plays, I have only attended Fiddler on the Roof, Shakespeare's Mid-Summer Night's Dream, and Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeoman of the Guard. For all three occasions, I read the plays before I saw them, otherwise the high-point of the evening would have been the playbill.

Then I started learning sign language.

A friend of mine told me Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was interpreted and asked if I would like to see that. I did, but out of habit, I read the play before I went. When the curtains rose, I took off my hearing aids: no sound. I remembered the play, I watched the interpreters, I saw the action and after the first fifteen minutes, I was totally lost. I needed more practice understanding the interpreters.

Things were not much better with the second outing, another of the Flying Brothers Karamazov's romps, While the Brothers juggled balls and pins, I juggled signing and action. Any hopes of clarity were dashed by the frantic comedy. My theater-going started to look grim. For our third outing, Shakespeare's Pericles, again I tried to read before seeing, but either I was busy or just plain lazy. I never did read the play. I walked in cold and Surprise! I understood the interpreters. Even though I needed my friends to fill in some blanks, I was happy I could finally grasp the overall plot.

Since then I have been a regular theater-goer. True some plays still escaped me (Six Degrees of Separation and The Sisters Rosenweig). The more plays I attended, the more I understood and naturally the more I enjoyed. So far, besides the five above, I have seen Moliere's A Flaw in the Ointment, an agreeable lightweight comedy of mistaken identity ending with a ten minute chase in a sanitarium; Harvey, a well-acted well-staged production of a famous batty play about a six-foot invisible white rabbit; Bus Stop, a superior production of bittersweet romances taking place in a Midwest diner. What's next? Phantom of the Opera? Moliere's Scapin? Anything Goes? Language of Flowers? The Gospel at Colonus? Room Service? So many exciting choices, so precious little time.

Then I saw The Italian Straw Hat by the National Theatre for the Deaf. The production was a delightful fast-paced well-acted comedy of a harassed bridegroom who must replace a damaged Italian straw hat on his wedding day. As the hero got into one scrape after another, the audience laughed and enjoyed themselves. Did I get swept away by the merriment mirth? Hardly. It's one thing to watch two interpreters bolted to the floor, but quite a different thing altogether chasing twelve characters at 85 mph signing. Eight plays behind me but I'm back to square one. We need more deaf plays.

Well?

A Contemporary Theatre
100 West Roy Street, Seattle
(206)285-5110 V
(206)285-3224 TTY
Interpreted performances 8:00pm on the third Friday of every run

Bainbridge Performing Arts
200 Madison Avenue, Bainbridge Island
(206)842-8569 V
(800)378-8569 V
Interpreted performances 7:30pm on the first Saturday of every run

Seattle Repertory Theatre
155 Mercer Street, Seattle
(206)443-2222 V
(206)443-2226 TTY
Interpreted performances on Sundays at 2:00pm. Specific days vary.

Village Theatre
303 Front Street North, Issaquah
Interpreted performances 2:00pm on Saturdays. Specific days vary.

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