In the run-up to Lexington School for the Deaf’s show, “Nothing Happened!” (click the link for more information – and to buy tickets!), we thought we’d scout out some stories of Deaf theatre:
Two performers from the Tony Award-winning play “War Horse” visited deaf and hard -of-hearing students at Edmonds-Woodway High School last week.
Cast members Chad Jennings and Gregory Manley participated in an hour-long theater workshop and answered questions about their careers to a group of about 20 students. Since neither actor is deaf or hard of hearing, an interpreter helped with communication.
However, the theater exercises were hardly dependent on spoken words.
As the group members formed a circle, they went back and forth emulating different horse-like movements and characteristics. Rather than acting based on a script, all participants relied on body language to fulfill their role.
Mostly silence filled the room, other than bursts of laughter.
Jennings and Manley agreed that listening and non-verbal communication are crucial to their performances in “War Horse.” The play features massive, engineered puppets to tell the story of the bond between a horse and a boy in the midst of war and tragedy.
“We make horse sounds, but we cannot use words,” said Jennings, who is a part of a three-person team to play the horse. “This makes us become very sensitive to balance and breath.”
After the workshop, both actors talked about their career paths and offered advice.
Jennings, who plays the auctioneer, explained that he was very shy growing up. However, once he started taking drama classes in high school he noticed many changes in his attitude toward others and himself.
“Theater has allowed me to have fun with people, confront people and just relax,” said Jennings. “It really changed my life.”
Jennings also advised students to reach out to their theater teachers for support if interested in pursuing acting and assured them that help is always available.
The collaboration is thanks to Seattle Theatre Group (STG), a nonprofit organization that strives to keep arts and theater vibrant in the community. Last year, the director of education and performance programs at STG, Vicky Lee, wrote a grant to the Broadway League for “Power of Horses,” a residency project involving deaf teens and adults. The STG was one of 10 presenters in the country chosen.
Lee explained that the program goal is to teach students methods of expressive storytelling by using horses as an overarching theme. It is a joint partnership between STG, Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center and Deaf Spotlight.
EWHS was chosen to participate because it has the highest population of deaf and hard of hearing students in the Edmonds School District.
This grant paid for the actor Howie Seago, who was born deaf, to lead a two-month-long workshop at the high school. Seago has appeared in many plays and television shows, such as “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and is the first deaf actor to perform at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Coincidentally, Seago’s wife, Lori, is a teacher in the program for deaf students at EWHS.
When the Broadway stars heard about the horse-theme program and Seago’s involvement from Paramount company managers, they were eager to participate and continued to show interest in the project. In fact, the actors agreed to help with another event the following week after the workshop was over.
The grant also covers tickets to a live interpretive version of “War Horse” which the students will attend this Sunday, Feb. 24. After the matinee performance, there will be a private Q&A event for the students and selected actors.
“The students are so excited to attend,” said Elizabeth Sieler, an assistant teacher. “This whole program has been real treat for them and this is a special way to end it.”
For a deeper look into the program, keep an eye out for an upcoming documentary by the Emerald Collective.