I think it’s pretty well known around here that I have a huge crush on Shoshannah Stern, who appeared in Deaf West‘s production of Children of a Lesser God last year as Sarah, the role made famous by fellow Deaf actress Marlee Matlin (on whom I also have a huge crush). Sadly, the run of the play is long over, but this interview is still relevant and interesting, so I thought I’d share it!
Shoshannah Stern, a young Deaf woman, Signs throughout this video (transcript is of the subtitles, any errors mine!).
This role means the most to Deaf theatre, I think. It really put Deaf theatre on the map. It opened doors and made people interested in Deaf culture. They were willing to see Sign and Deaf people on stage. The door opened to Broadway, the Tonys, and of course the film with Marlee Matlin. I remember the day she won her Oscar. And now it feels like an honour to be able to play that role now.
I had the perception that the play was geared for hearing audiences, not for Deaf audiences. That it taught the hearing audience what Deaf people were all about, what Sign Language was. The director says many times this play inspired people to Sign and teach Sign Language. I understand why Deaf people feel frustrated about that and they want it to be Signed fluently without that feeling of responsibility. But I feel that responsibility is a blessing: to be able to get both audiences to enjoy the show. I think that if it’s done right, I don’t think we have to sacrifice anything. I don’t think the Deaf audience should feel they missed out. Especially now, because we’re doing a modern take on the play and it’s more accessible. Almost everything is Signed.
The problem I have is that many times in the script, Sarah says ‘what?’ a lot, but now I understand what’s said. I think it’s made interesting by today’s lens and with the ADA, with more awareness of theatre, Sign Language, and Deaf theatre availability. I think this play is more accessible than ever. The idea that ASL was a recognised language hadn’t come about. Now ASL has become more mainstream. People know about it, and it’s cool. So I think there’s more wiggle room for creative use of ASL, while remaining loyal to the script. We can be more creative with the language.
I am grateful for our director, because he understands the play so well. He knows what’s under the rock and the intent. ‘Mark Medoff really meant that, not this.’ Fascinating. What happened on Broadway, and why the line was written that way. Many times he’ll correct himself and say that this line really meant that, not this. It feels like he’s an encyclopedia on the play.
Myself, I will feel really frustrated sometimes. I’ll arrive home angry because people didn’t understand me. But never to the extremes that Sarah does. So I felt it was too…but once I went there, it really felt like she had a reason for that anger. That anger comes from hurt. She’s a very hurt person and she tries to explain why. And once I felt that, I really cherished Sarah and I realised that she was an emotionally intelligent person and tried to open up but no one gave her the chance to. I respect where she comes from and I am grateful for what we have today, and I realise we have a lot more ahead of us. We have to keep fighting, and that will never stop. Some things are still the same no matter how much things have changed since then.
If you’re interested in seeing Ms. Stern in action, she’s currently on Lie To Me, and she’s also teaching a workshop on ASL storytelling this 4 December at the Deaf West theatre in North Hollywood. Voice interpretation is available.