ASL Midsummer Night’s Dream

Yesterday Eric and I went on a date and saw a play put on by the Sound Theatre Company and Deaf Spotlight. It was a bilingual version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” presented in both English and ASL.

Poster for "ASL Midsummer Night's Dream" featuring Titania gazing lovingly at Bottom, who's been transformed into an ass.

The stage was small and intimate, with the only setting being curtains and a few pillows. It’s always amazed me how actors in such venues can transport you, evoking a setting with their performance.

Stage for the 12th Avenue Theatre, set with stairs and silk streamers hanging from the sky. Lit blue with spotlights.

All the actors were great. A few performances I’d call out…

Ryan Schletch, playing Nick Bottom, was amazingly energetic and expressive. He chewed the furniture in perfect William Shatner style and gave a tremendous performance of an “over the top” actor in the play within a play. His presentation was wonderfully funny. Especially the two instances where he stood behind another actor and spoke as them in ASL by replacing their arms with his own. Each time ended with a certain amount of bawdiness and then indignation on the part of the “puppeted” actor.

Puck was played with mischievous glee by Michelle Mary Schaefer. Her antics were fun and she fully embodied that trickster elf.

Kai Winchester, as Lysander, won me over with his gentle wooing of Hermia, and then briefly Helena, and then Hermia again. Oh Puck, what trouble you wrought!

Michael D. Blum and Kathy Hsieh brought dignity and gravitas to the roles of Oberon and Titania, respectively.

Kyle Seago’s performance of Demetrius was masterful and ardent. He also brought humor to the role. My ASL instructor once told me that Deaf people can easily pick out hearing folks signing ASL from native speakers, and having watched a play with both hearing and Deaf actors, I can see what he meant. Kyle’s ASL was so crisp, however, that I was startled when he spoke. Now that I’m looking at the program, I see he has the same last name as one of the directors, I’m guessing he grew up in a family both Deaf and theatrical, which explains his dual skills in ASL and acting.

Eric’s favorite was Guthrie Nutter’s performance as First Fairy, calling out Nutter’s expressiveness and the way his hands moved like poetry.

What impressed me most about the production is the way ASL and English were integrated seamlessly. Sometimes ASL was at the forefront with one a background character on the stage providing spoken translation. Other times spoken English was at the center of the action, with a background character providing ASL translation. The hearing actors had been coached in ASL and often integrated ASL signs with their speech. It flowed beautifully back and forth. I was impressed at how inclusive the Deaf community is.

For the past year-and-a-half I’ve been taking ASL classes. I very much enjoyed watching Shakespeare translated into ASL. I recognized about 20-30% of the signs and learned a few more. As with any translation, there were places where the translation changed the meaning a bit, sometimes creating in-jokes for the ASL crowd.

Eric, who knows only a handful of signs that I’ve taught him (I tend to be non-verbal before coffee, and sometimes use ASL then) also enjoyed the performance.

The play was abbreviated from the full Shakespeare, but masterfully so. I found it more fast-paced and engaging than traditional productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Howie Seago and Teresa Thuman, the co-directors, brought us a wonderful theatrical experience. I’d recommend that you go. Unfortunately, Eric and I caught the last show. I will definitely be on the look out for future productions from these directors, Sound Theatre Company, and Deaf Spotlight.

Another joy was getting to interact with the Deaf community. I’m shy, and my ASL is still primitive. Still, I managed a few brief conversations and people I interacted with were very friendly and kind.

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5 thoughts on “ASL Midsummer Night’s Dream

  1. Sounds very cool! And I love that you say that, tending to be non-verbal before coffee, you use ASL then 🙂

    I saw Howie Segal in a couple of productions with mixed Deaf and speaking actors at Seattle Children’s Theater many years ago, and he was very good. Likely Kyle is his son. At the Q&A after one of the SCT shows, Segal shared some information about how he signs in different ways to convey things one would do with voice, such as making much larger hand movements to indicate that the actor is being “louder.”

    • That’s cool that you’ve seen Howie Segal, too. That’s interesting about the connotations and emphasis of ASL changing for stage. There’s so much to learn!

  2. What a great concept! I love thet hey are making theatre accessible to others. I have been to plays that use “audio description” for the visually impaired and it can really expand my access to the show. So much detail is missed when we cannot see them. Nice find. Thank you for sharing.

    • That’s interesting about “audio description” I hadn’t thought about that before, but it makes a lot of sense. I co-produced an online comic ( and worked with the accessibility team here at Google to make it screenreader friendly.

      One of the great pieces of advice I got from the tester who I worked with was to “describe the meaning of the images — not just the images” I ended up writing something like a screenplay for it. He told me the comic was fun. (Well, fun for a comic on a highly technical subject, Google Kubernetes Engine….)

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