by Haley Flanders, dramaturg
The Taste of Sunrise is so unique because it is bilingual; it is performed in American Sign Language and spoken English at the same time. This might seem confusing to produce and to watch. This is how it is done:
If characters (not the actors, but the characters in the play) are Deaf, then they sign their lines while someone (usually another actor who looks like them) stands near them and speaks their lines. This is so that the Hearing audience can understand what is being signed. These characters are called “voice” characters, like “Tuc’s Voice”, played by Sean Worsley.
If a Hearing character is speaking, then another performer stands near them and signs their lines. This is so the Deaf members of the audience can understand what is being said. These performers will be called “ASL performers” in the program and many actors double as named characters in the play and ASL performers for other characters.
So for every character, there are two actors on stage. However, there are certain times when a character speaks and signs at the same time. This means only 1 character needs to be on stage since both Hearing and Deaf audiences can understand the dialogue. Sometimes a Hearing character interprets Tuc by saying his lines aloud while they are having a conversation, so in those instances, a “voice” character is not needed.
Another fascinating fact about this play is the required casting. Suzan L. Zeder, the playwright, requires that the actor playing Tuc in The Taste of Sunrise be an actual Deaf actor, not just an actor pretending to be Deaf. For our production, we actually obtained not only a Deaf actor to play Tuc, but two Hard of Hearing actors as well:
INTERPRETERS: Another unique element to this show is how to rehearse it. Even though Ben wears a cochlear implant, he will not be wearing them for the show, since they did not have them during the early 20th century (the time period of the play). Therefore, he often rehearses without it, and two ASL interpreters have been hired to attend rehearsals and translate what is being said by Julia Ashworth (the director) and anyone else speaking directly to him. The two interpreters, Kim and Ann, work for the BYU disability center and often interpret for other BYU shows on select nights.
This is a really fun process to watch. Often times Ben, Jason, and David will sign to one another while other conversation is occurring, or they will choose to sign instead of speak during a rehearsal break and the interpreters will translate. There are also members of the cast who are ASL students and can understand ASL even though they are Hearing. Furthermore, Ben, Jason, David, and some other actors from ASL classes have never acted before, so this is an exciting rehearsal process since they are brand new to theatre! Overall, the rehearsal and production process for a bi-lingual play is challenging but trust me, it will be worth it!
TAKING ON THIS BI-LINGUAL CHALLENGE: A WORD OF WARNING AND ENCOURAGEMENT FROM THE PLAYWRIGHT
In the script, Suzan L. Zeder wrote a section called “From the Playwright”, wherein she expressed the challenge yet powerful effect doing a bilingual play can have on an audience.
“If you decide to produce this play it will not be because it is easy, inexpensive or because it fits comfortable into a usual production structure. I encourage you to seek partnerships, co-productions, and relationships between Deaf and hearing artists to create something together that neither could do as well alone. If you decide to product this play, it will be because it touches something within you that demand that you stretch yourself and your community beyond your usually resources; because these words need to be spoken, these signs need to be seen, because Tuc’s life needs to be shared with others who only see what people cannot do and cannot be. My life has been profoundly changed by every production of this play that I have seen. I hope yours will be too.”