Actors learn lines – and signs – in theater’s new outreach

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STANDISH — The Schoolhouse Arts Center’s current rendition of “Seussical the Musical” features the same songs and sounds as any other production of the popular play, but looks slightly different.

The entire 36-member cast, ranging in age from 4 to over 65, signs all major plot developments in American Sign Language as they act and sing.

“Seussical” is the second production at the Standish theater to be led by new artistic director Zac Stearn, who envisions it as “the start of something much bigger” in terms of engagement with people from diverse backgrounds, including members of the deaf community.

“We want to start becoming a theater that is a destination for actors and patrons alike of all different walks of life,” Stearn said. “So one of the ways [of] doing that is by incorporating American Sign Language into all of our shows, whether it be a fully interpreted performance – or what we’re doing is our entire cast, all 36 of them, sign throughout the show.”

The theater scheduled 12 total showings of “Seussical” in July, with the final performances this weekend. The shows on July 27 and July 28 start at 7 p.m. and the July 29 performance is at 5 p.m.

Stearn said the performance on Saturday will be fully interpreted with certified ASL interpreters will be on hand to sign every piece of dialogue in the show.

“This is a whole demographic of people that doesn’t go out to live theater, because there’s very rarely an opportunity that they can go see a show, understand what’s happening throughout the show,” Stearn said.

This fall, the theater also plans to offer ASL classes, which will cost $175 per student.

Stearn, 24, whose mother is deaf, is fluent in ASL and sees “Seussical” as the perfect launching point for the Schoolhouse Arts Center’s outreach to the deaf community.

“Dr. Seuss has three main themes in all of his writing: it’s diversity, inclusion, and creativity,” Stearn said. “And I said, why don’t we take that to the next level with this production.”

The actors had specific rehearsals to learn the signs line by line. Stearn also was filmed teaching the signs and the video was posted in the cast’s private Facebook group so the actors could review it.

Besides two young cast members who are deaf, the actors had no previous experience with ASL, Stearn said.

“The whole cast has really stepped up,” he added.

Jeff McNally, 21, of Gorham, played the Cat in the Hat in Thursday productions of the show. He didn’t know about the ASL component when he auditioned, but called it “a pleasant surprise” that deepened the experience for him.

Sam D’Amico, 14, also from Gorham, and has the role of  a Wickersham Brother as well as playing reed in the pit band. There is an ASL interpreter at his church, but acting in this production has broadened his experience with the language.

“Now that I’ve started learning ASL more, it has brought me to a new community,” D’Amico said with a smile, adding that he’s learned in the process that his aunt is an ASL interpreter.

Two members of the cast, 7-year-old and 5-year-old siblings Jason and Sephine Seal, are deaf.

“They love it. They’ve always wanted to involved in plays. This is their first time being involved in a play,” said their father, Josh Seal.

He and his wife Elizabeth are both deaf, and the family lives in Hollis.

“The ASL aspect is bright and it’s big,” Seal said in an interview with Stearn acting as an interpreter. “It’s a good blend with the music and songs and the dances. It’s really fun.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

The 36-member cast of “Seussical the Musical” currently on stage at the Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish uses American Sign Language as part of the production.

The Schoolhouse Arts Center’s 12-show production of “Seussical the Musical” is wrapping this weekend with shows on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.

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