Awaken your senses with “Spring Awakening”

Diana Colapietro, Photo Editor

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Close your eyes for 10 seconds.

Welcome back. In those brief moments, maybe without even realizing it, your four other senses intensified. Perhaps you became aware of how this paper feels in your hands, maybe you just noticed your gum lost its flavor or possibly you are rolling your eyes at a conversation unfolding nearby.

According to an article from Scientific American, “the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows people who are born deaf use areas of the brain typically devoted to processing sound to instead process touch and vision.” When we disengage one of our senses, the others are amplified.

This spellbinding revival of “Spring Awakening,” based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, features American Sign Language fully integrated into the English performance by both deaf and hearing cast members.

Deaf West Theater’s production premiered in Los Angeles in 2014. After receiving critical acclaim, it was announced in July that the show would come to Broadway this fall. With previews of the show starting on Sept. 8, it will open on Sunday, Sept. 27 and is currently set to close Jan. 24 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in Manhattan.

The Broadway debut of “Spring Awakening” successfully ran from 2006 to 2009 with 859 performances. The cast, starring Lea Michele and Jonathon Groff, earned eight Tony Awards in 2007, included among them, Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography and Best Lighting Design.

It is a powerful coming-of-age story set in Germany in the late 1800s. The musical follows the journeys of Melchior Gabor (Autin P. McKenzie), Wendla Bergmann (Sandra Mae Frank and Katie Boeck) and Moritz Stiefel (Daniel Durant and Alex Boniello), as these adolescents navigate the often unruly waters of growing into themselves and their relationships with their peers.

The Deaf West Theater company consists of both deaf and hearing actors. Two notable characters, Wendla and Moritz, are double casted on stage. The primary actors are deaf and sign the dialogue while their hearing counterparts speak the script, sing the lyrics and provide subtle visual cues. The speaking actors are so thoughtfully woven into the choreography that the audience can understand how the characters sometimes interact with their inner selves.

It is no coincidence that “Spring Awakening” heavily revolves around communication (or lack thereof) between friends, romantic partners, parents and teachers.

Under the direction of Michael Arden with music by Duncan Sheik, lyrics by Steven Sater and choreography by Spencer Liff, the actors convey the compelling evolution of these characters and the ultimate human desires for love and communication.

In a video by Buzzfeed documenting the story of this scintillating production, Artistic Director DJ Kurs said, “Music is not an art form that is typically available to the deaf community so in this production we’re not just bringing sign language to hearing people, we’re bringing musicals into the deaf community as well.”

This musical is nothing short of a sensory overload. The way the actors sign the entire script and how the lighting manages to command the audience’s attention is overwhelmingly beautiful. The signing directly correlates to the overarching themes of the music, lyrics and dialogue with gentle motions for softer songs and more dramatic gestures during intense scenes.

Not only does this revival of “Spring Awakening” extend beyond the typical theater experience, it also holds a place in Broadway history. Ali Stroker (Anna) makes her debut as the first person in a wheelchair ever on Broadway. The 28-year-old actress was paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident when she was just two years old. Now, as stated in the show’s playbill, Ali believes that “any limitation can be an opportunity.”

Today, there are about 500,000 people using ASL (American Sign Language) in the United States. It is the third most taught language in schools and universities across the country. Through the emotionally charged script and the ASL translation of it, the production is a revolutionary experience for theatergoers.

For most human beings, our five senses are constantly engaged during our waking hours. As one of these humans, it is hard to understand what it is like to be deprived of any senses on a daily basis (without wearing an eye mask or noise-cancelling headphones).

“Spring Awakening” transcends the senses. It exceeds what we think we may know about body language and visual production. Deaf and hearing members of both the cast and audience experience this rock musical with their entire being. The signing and lighting makes just as much of an impact as the music does.

Not everyone in the theater may be able to hear, but it is certain that every single person feels something when the story touches his or her heart.

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