Almost a year ago, The Frame reported on the Deaf West Theatre company’s production of the musical “Spring Awakening,” which was then produced at Inner City Arts' small theater on L.A.’s Skid Row. The show was a huge hit and was re-mounted earlier this year at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts in Beverly Hills.
Well, now Deaf West’s “Spring Awakening” is getting rave reviews — on Broadway.
The show features performances by both deaf and hearing actors, some of whom have to take on singing, dancing and signing all within the same song. It might seem like a complicated spectacle to pull off, but graceful deliveries and some clever visual and audio tricks make the show a hit for all audiences.
We wanted to talk about the road to Broadway for “Spring Awakening,” so we tracked down D.J. Kurs, he’s the artistic director of Deaf West Theatre, who’s in New York with the show. Kurs is also hearing impaired, so he spoke with The Frame’s John Horn with the help of an interpreter, Beverly Nero.
Deaf West had to run a Kickstarter campaign to fund the initial production of “Spring Awakening.” You don’t even have your own theater space in L.A., and here you are on Broadway opening to rave reviews. Can you describe the journey that this show has been on?
Well you were there at the very, very beginning with us when we were in a very small theater — the Inner City Arts theater. And it’s been a wonderful journey since.
What was it like for the company to open the papers and start reading the notices that you got for the show?
It has just been wonderful. We performed on Sunday night. And after the show we went to the opening party and — modern times — we of course don’t wait for the newspaper, but we wait for our phones to show up with the reviews. We were just ecstatic. One year ago we were still in a tiny space and we could never have envisioned that Broadway was in our future within a year. We thought that if it would ever happen it would be three or four years from then. So, that night was very, very emotional for everyone. All of the actors couldn’t stop hugging each other and every face that I looked at had tears in it.
“Spring Awakening” has been on Broadway before. How do you think the play has changed in your form of the production?
We have two different kinds of audiences: people who saw [the original] “Spring Awakening who loved it; and there are people who haven’t seen “Spring Awakening” at all because it’s been eight years since it was on Broadway. So much about the production — the staging, the lighting, the choreography — has been changed. The script, of course, is the same, the beautiful music is the same, but everything else is different. So right now, for example, it’s performed in two different languages simultaneously. So that I think is a thrilling thing for people to see ... They’re able to see and hear it through two different perspectives at the same time.
And do you think it actually changes the way in which the show is received? Does the meaning of the show change? Does the relationship between performer and audience change?
Yes. One of the things that we started working with for this production is, how can we work with deaf culture? We looked at the history of the production and that it takes place in 1890s Germany, where [there] was a very strong oral education for deaf people at that juncture in time, because there was a conference that determined that all deaf students had to be taught by the oral method. So, for many, many years, deaf people were not taught to use sign language in any education settings. So, really, the play is so much about communication and different generations that are trying to be understood. And so it just adds a new layer right on top of the already existing layer and message of the story. So when we add sign language to this, the visual language is so much in support of the actual meaning of the words and the lyrics.
You’ve said it was a limited run. Given the reviews, is it still going to be [just 17 weeks]?
Well there’s another production that has already been scheduled, so we do have to get out of the [Brooks Atkinson] theater. So we’ll see what happens. And, hopefully, we can sell some tickets in the meantime.