The Deaf Renaissance: Beyond ‘CODA’ | AMERICAN THEATRE

There’s no denying the fact that we are currently experiencing a Deaf renaissance in the theatre. Quite possibly precipitated by CODA’s history-making wins at the Academy Awards in March, where the underdog film shattered expectations by swooping in and walking away with the top prize for Best Picture, Deaf people and stories have never been more visible on the boards as they are this year. 

In New York City alone, multiple Deaf actors can be seen this summer playing major roles in high-profile mainstream productions as varied as the Public’s Richard III in Central Park and For Colored Girls… on Broadway, as well as the Arlekin Players Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Near Baltimore, the Olney Theatre is populating River City with a large and diverse group of Deaf denizens for their production of The Music Man, led by James Caverly in the titular role who causes trouble while being Deaf with a capital D. Meanwhile, the national Broadway tour of To Kill a Mockingbird is currently playing cities around the country with Deaf actor Anthony Natale in the role of Link Deas, out-of-the-box casting that was first seen on Broadway when Russell Harvard stepped into the role as a replacement at the Shubert. 

What is striking is that exactly none of these roles were originally written for Deaf actors, allowing each of these classic stories and characters to be viewed through a fresh new lens with brand new dynamics and layers. Indeed, this sort of non-traditional casting has rarely been seen on mainstream stages, especially to such an extent, which means that there has never been a better time to be a Deaf actor than right now.

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