2015-2016 Season,  The Taste of Sunrise

Signing Away in Film and Plays: ASL In Other Performances

by Haley Flanders, dramaturg

1602-28 009 Play the Taste of Sunrise publicity February 16, 2016 Photography by: Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo Copyright BYU Photo 2016 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 4015
Photography by: Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo Copyright BYU Photo 2016                                       All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322

Welcome! Our play opens in less than 2 weeks! Thursday, March 10 is the final dress rehearsal, and patrons are invited to purchase tickets for this performance. Then we officially open on Friday, March 11! We look forward to seeing you there.

As preparation for attending this performance, this blog post includes a list of American Sign Language (ASL) featured in other examples of theatre and film. This will give you some history of ASL in performance and provides many resources if you become interested in learning more about ASL after experiencing The Taste of Sunrise at BYU.

The bulk of this text came from the Educator’s Resource Packet for the third play in this Ware trilogy, The Edge of Peace, produced by the Seattle Children’s Theatre. Click on this link to access the PDF.

Billy Seago
Billy Seago

Let me first introduce Billy Seago. He collaborated with playwright Suzan Zeder on the development of Tuc in all the plays in the trilogy. Here is an excerpt of his interview with Seattle Children’s Theatre in 2013 for The Edge of Peace:

What are some interesting or unusual challenges have faced as a Deaf actor and how do you work with it?

Billy: As a Deaf actor, I normally translate my lines of the script from the English text into American Sign Language for all the plays I am involved with. The Edge of Peace—as well as Mother Hicks and The Taste of Sunrise—were particularly challenging. American Sign Language (ASL) is a unique visual language with its own distinct structure, syntax and grammar. Information is conveyed not in sounds, but with the shape and movement of the hands and other parts of the body, and with facial expressions, including mouthing (making mouth movements without making any sound). ASL has dialects, with variations in signs and movements depending on region, where the signer went to school, who taught him/her ASL, at what age the signer learned ASL and how active the signer is in the Deaf community. So one of my challenges was to ensure that Tuc’s sign choices were based on the region around Ware, Illinois, the […] time period, the lack of fluent signers in Tuc’s early developmental years, the development of his “home signs” (personally invented signs) and his subsequent exposure to ASL at the State School for the Deaf. The sign choices also needed to reflect the natural progression of his sign development as he gained more education.


2132416clip_image0021The National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) was founded by David Hays and Bernard Bragg. NTD, as well as other professional ASL theaters that have emerged since, like Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles and New York Deaf Theatre, try to present work that bridges the gap between the hearing and Deaf worlds. Click here to visit their site.


Bragg_story_2013Bernard Bragg, an actor, writer, director, poet and artist, trained with the French mime Marcel Marceau. He has performed on stage, in television and in films, toured his one-man shows around the world, and helped found the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD). He was one of the first performers to perform in ASL on national television, in 1967. Here is Bragg acting for the NTD in a play called My Third Eye.

deafwestDeaf West Theatre is in Los Angeles, California. They often collaborates with hearing theaters. They produced a successful revival of the musical Big River with the Roundabout Theatre in New York City which featured Deaf and hearing actors performing together. The director of our play, Julia Ashworth, went to NYC to see this theatre company perform a musical over Christmas.

Click here to visit their site. Here is a video montage of their production of Pinocchio.


Phyllis Frelich and John Rubinstein

Children of a Lesser God: In 1980 the hearing playwright Mark Medoff wrote the play for the Deaf actress Phyllis Frelich. Using both ASL and English dialogue, the play portrays the conflicted romantic relationship between a Deaf woman and her former teacher. Phyllis French won the Tony Award for her performance in the Broadway production. She was the first Deaf performer to win a Tony.


Howie Seago (brother of Billy Seago) is a Deaf actor in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. For one recent production of Henry V, his character was provided with a Royal Interpreter, who followed him about onstage. In To Kill a Mockingbird Howie played Bob Ewell. Seago and his on-stage daughter created a “white trash” sign language, which expressed the rage of a man who could not communicate effectively with the wider world. In The Music Man, he played a con man who communicates with his partner in sign language to keep their schemes secret.

26dad3271ad9bc03543da1ca7bd56f8bSean Berdy stars in Switched at Birth, playing Emmett Bledsoe. Below is a trailer for the ABC Family Television show:

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 3.43.18 PMMarlee Matlin is the youngest actress, and the only Deaf performer, to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She won for the film version of Children of a Lesser God. She has also been nominated three times for a Golden Globe award and won once, and been nominated four times for an Emmy Award. A member of the National Association of the Deaf, she plays Emmet Bledsoe’s mother in Switched at BirthClick here to read an article about Marlee’s experience signing the USA national anthem at the beginning of this year’s NFL Super Bowl 50, while Lady Gaga sang! So cool!


FranBrill-Zoe-709413Linda Bove played the Deaf character Linda the Librarian on Sesame Street for over thirty years. She studied at Gallaudet University. She and her husband, the Deaf actor Ed Waterstreet, founded the Deaf West Theatre company in Los Angeles.

Linda was the first person I ever saw sign when I was young, so I have always associated ASL with her! Here is a video of Linda teaching ASL on Sesame Street while Olivia sings the song, “Sing” by the Carpenters.

T.L._Forsberg5T.L. Forsberg is the lead singer for the rock band KRIYA. She was profiled in the 2010 documentary See What I’m Saying. She plays Olivia on Switched at Birth. Below is a trailer for the documentary, which features 4 deaf entertainers:

Thanks for exploring this blog post! I hope you enjoy searching for more fun use of ASL in theatre and film.

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