COVID-19 Theater Series: Deaf West Theatre Broadens our Horizons - An Interview with David J. Kurs


Having grown up in a deaf family in Riverside, California, it was no surprise that David J. Kurs became interested in theater performed in American Sign Language (ASL) early on. His passion for the power of the arts was realized when in 2009 he joined the Deaf West Theatre (DWT), founded in 1991 by Ed Waterstreet. Upon Waterstreet’s retirement in 2012, he became the second artistic director in the history of the company. Prior to becoming artistic director, Kurs wrote and produced Aesop Who?, a multimedia show for young audiences, and served as associate producer and ASL master for Deaf West’s productions of Children of a Lesser God (2009), My Sister in this House (2010), and The Adventures of Pinocchio (2011). To quote Kurs: “Deaf West has had a great impact on me in my artistic development, and I can only hope to spread this passion on to others and to create opportunities for them so that we all can achieve a shared goal of artistic growth.” In 2020, he was named “Deaf Person of the Month” by DeafPeople.com. David took time from his busy schedule to interview in May 2020.


Daniel Durant and Natasha Ofili in "Orphee" - Photo by Brandon Simmoneau

When and how did Deaf West Theatre first form? Were you there from the beginning? What are some of the most popular shows you presented? Have you received any rewards? 

David J. Kurs:  Deaf West Theatre (DWT) was founded in Los Angeles in 1991 by deaf actors. Our theater engages artists and audiences in unparalleled theater experiences inspired by deaf culture and the expressive power of sign language. We weave American Sign Language (ASL) with spoken English to create a seamless ballet of movement and voice. Committed to innovation, collaboration, and training, DWT is the artistic bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds.

Recent and past productions include Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, The Solid Life of Sugar Water by Jack Thorne, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, a co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse. In co-productions with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, we also presented Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo. The Deaf West production of Spring Awakening transferred from a small 99-seat theater to the Wallis and then to Broadway, where we received three Tony Award nominations in 2016. American Buffalo was named the Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” In a co-production with the Fountain Theatre, we also presented Cyrano, which won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for outstanding production. Big River won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Backstage Garland Awards for best musical in its Los Angeles premiere, as well as a Tony nomination and four Drama Desk Awards on Broadway. In a co-production with Center Theatre Group, DWT produced Pippin, which was presented at the Mark Taper Forum, and Sleeping Beauty Wakes, produced at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Oliver! won the Ovation Award for best musical, and A Streetcar Named Desire won the Ovation Award for best play. In 2005, the Secretary of Health and Human Services selected DWT to receive the highest recognition award for its “distinguished contributions to improve and enrich the culture lives of deaf and hard of hearing actors and theater patrons.”

I have attended DWT shows since the company’s inception when I was in high school. I began working with the theater in 2009 and succeeded our founding artistic director Ed Waterstreet as artistic director in 2012.

Daniel Durant, Eddie Buck, Troy Kotsur, Ipek D. Mehlum, and Maleni Chaitoo in "Cyrano" - Photo by Ed Krieger

When did you close the theater for COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run?

DJK:  We opened and closed our new production, Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, on the same night. It was heartbreaking; but, in retrospect, I am thankful that everyone is safe. My heart goes out to the actors, designers, and creatives who labored so mightily and valiantly to bring together an exemplary show that was seen by so few. The memory of coming together with the company in the empty theater after the curtain will remain in my heart for a long time.

How has the COVID-19 shutdown impacted your theater?

DJK:  We had to cancel our run of our play on the first night, as well as a planned tour to Tokyo. We also cancelled a planned fall show. Other than readings and workshops, we don’t have anything on the calendar for another year. But I’m still hoping that we’ll get back onstage before then.

Sandra Mae Frank, Treshelle Edmond, Natacha Roi, Katie Boeck, Lauren Patten, Amelia Hensley, Alexandra Winter, and Ali Stroker in "Spring Awakening" - Photo by Tate Tullier

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming? Do you have virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when the theater can reopen?

DJK:  We are staying in touch every day, mainly on Zoom. We collaborated with NBC on an episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist that premiered a few weeks ago, and it was extremely gratifying to see the love and praise from the community. We also collaborated with Kelly Clarkson and helped create a community-sourced video for her latest song, “I Dare You.” It’s a blessing to be able to generate work for all of the actors from our community during these times, and we’re not going to stop. We’re also working on several digital projects, including a full production to be streamed.

Nick Apostolina, Natalie Camunas, Sandra Mae Frank, and Tad Cooley in "The Solid Life of Sugar Water" - Photo by Brandon Simmoneau

What do you think the impact of COVID-19 will be on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes?

DJK:  It is my observation that theatergoers in Los Angeles are creatures of habit. Once we emerge from the end of the tunnel, I think that things will return to normal quicker than we expect. I also think a lot about what prospective patrons will need to feel safe in a theater again.

Troy Kotsur, Matthew Ryan Pest, and Paul Raci in "American Buffalo" - Photo by Noel Bass

What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the theater public?

DJK:  I, for one, count my blessings every day. We have a wonderful community of actors and patrons that keeps us going. Our Board has been extremely supportive, and we’ve received some wonderful donations. Theater is an art form that’s been around for ages. While we will continue to fill our need for communal experiences, our industry will continue to evolve. I think our industry will make advances in virtual space. I’m thinking about this time in our industry and how we can step up to the challenges posed by quarantine. But in my mind only one thing is certain: that we must move forward together with grace, strength, and compassion.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



THE BEST OF SHOWS ON BETTER LEMONS IN 2019

Better Lemons had a fantastic year and we couldn't have done it without the fantastic critics, publicists, and audience members who share their love of Los Angeles theater, by posting on Better Lemons and sharing their favorite shows and their reviews on social media.

We are especially grateful for all the Registered Critics who took their time this past year to rate shows they have reviewed to be included in our LemonMeter.

There were 1200 productions registered on Better Lemons in 2019! Out of those registered shows, over 600 received at least one review from a Critic and 201 were reviewed by Audience members. Out of these shows, we selected the winners that were most favored by Critics and/or Audiences.

Here is a list with all the Better Lemons SWEET productions of 2019:

The Better Lemons DoubleSWEET #LemonMeter Choice Awards for 2019
are going to the following productions:

(33 shows out of 1200 productions received
a DoubleSWEET #LemonMeter rating
from audience and critics)

TALES FROM THE POWDER ROOM at the Whitefire Theatre
41 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

IF WE RUN at the Lounge Theatre
32 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

RAISED BY WOLVES at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre
32 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TO DAD WITH LOVE: A TRIBUTE TO BUDDY EBSEN at Theatre West
30 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
14 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

FERTILE: A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE EXPECTATION OF PROCREATION currently at the Whitefire Theatre
27 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
8 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

HOLLYWOODN'T at the Santa Monica Playhouse
20 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

THE BULLY PROBLEM at the Arena Theatre - Theatre of Arts
17 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
9 Critics reviews - 94% Sweet

THE NARCISSIST NEXT DOOR at the Complex Theatre
15 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 75% Sweet

THE ELEPHANT MAN at the El Portal Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 96% Sweet
7 Critics reviews - 93% Sweet

MONO/POLY at the Odyssey Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

MASTERS OF THE DARK REALM at the Actors Workout Studio
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

BUNNY THE ELF LIVE! currently at the Stages in Fullerton
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

CRACK WHORE, BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR at the Complex Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 96% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

A BIT MUCH at the Lounge Theatre
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

(IM)PERFEKT at the Santa Monica Playhouse
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

BLACKBOXING at the Complex Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

MIL GRUS at the McCadden Place Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TRANSFERENCE at The Broadwater
9 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
6 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

SCRAPS at the Matrix Theatre
8 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
15 Critics reviews - 87% Sweet

SUPPORTIVE WHITE PARENTS at The Broadwater
8 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

NEIL SIMON'S MUSICAL FOOLS by the Open Fist Theatre Company
7 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
13 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

ROMEO AND JULIET IN HELL at the Actors Workout Studio
7 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
8 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

FALLEN SAINTS: SALEM at the Actors Workout Studio
7 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
7 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

SAVING CAIN at the Hudson Theatres
6 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
5 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

THE LAST CROISSANT at The Broadwater
5 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
6 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TREYA'S LAST DANCE at the Hudson Theatres
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

OLIVIA WILDE DOES NOT SURVIVE THE APOCALYPSE at the Complex Theatre
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
6 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

CLARISSANT at the Atwater Village Theatre
4 Audience reviews - 88% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

CIRQUE DU GISELLE at the Assistance League Theater
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

BATTER UP: MY BRAIN ON BASEBALL at studio/stage
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
4 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

JOAN AND WHAT DID THEY SAY - AN EVENING OF ONE ACTS at Theatre Unlimited (T.U. Studios)
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TREASON at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre
4 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

45 MILLIGRAMS at The Broadwater
3 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet
3 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

The Better Lemons Audience #LemonMeter Choice Awards for 2019
are going to the following productions:

(32 shows out of 1200 productions received
a minimum of 10 audience reviews
and have received a SWEET #LemonMeter rating by the Audience)

TALES FROM THE POWDER ROOM at the Whitefire Theatre
41 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

IF WE RUN at the Lounge Theatre
32 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

RAISED BY WOLVES at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre
32 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

TO DAD WITH LOVE: A TRIBUTE TO BUDDY EBSEN at Theatre West
30 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

FERTILE: A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE EXPECTATION OF PROCREATION currently at the Whitefire Theatre
27 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

AN EXCUSE TO BEHAVE BADLY at the Lounge Theatre
22 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

HOLLYWOODN'T at the Santa Monica Playhouse
20 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

THE BULLY PROBLEM at the Arena Theatre - Theatre of Arts
17 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

TELENOVELA at the Actors Workout Studio
16 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

AMERICAN STRANGER THE MUSICAL at Studio C
16 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

THE NARCISSIST NEXT DOOR at the Complex Theatre
15 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

MONO/POLY at the Odyssey Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

MASTERS OF THE DARK REALM at the Actors Workout Studio
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

BUNNY THE ELF LIVE! currently at the Stages in Fullerton
14 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

CRACK WHORE, BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR Complex Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 96% Sweet

THE ELEPHANT MAN at the El Portal Theatre
14 Audience reviews - 96% Sweet

MANDY PICKS A HUSBAND at the Actors Company
13 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

A BIT MUCH at the Lounge Theatre
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

ASK A BLACK WOMAN at Studio C
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

THANK YOU FOR LOVING ME at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

BIRTHDAY at the Actors Company
12 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

(IM)PERFEKT at the Santa Monica Playhouse
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

LEAVING PRINCE CHARMING at the Lounge Theatre
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

ENERJOYCE...EVOLUTION OF A PISCES BABY BOOMER at the Santa Monica Playhouse
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

YES. NO. MAYBE. at the Complex Theatre
11 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

BECOMING PEACE: A ONE WOMAN DRAMEDY ABOUT POWER, CULTURE, VIOLENCE AND NONVIOLENCE at the Lounge Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

CAT SH!T CRAZY...FROM HOT MESS TO HOT MAMA IN FOUR SIMPLE CATS at the Whitefire Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

OCTOPI WALL STREET at the New American Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

EMBRACE LOVE FREE at the Santa Monica Playhouse
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

BLACKBOXING at the Santa Monica Playhouse
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

MIL GRUS at the McCadden Place Theatre
10 Audience reviews - 100% Sweet

The Better Lemons Critics #LemonMeter Choice Awards for 2019
are going to the following productions:

(92 shows out of 1200 productions received
a minimum of 10 critic reviews
and have received a SWEET #LemonMeter rating by the Critics)

DANIEL'S HUSBAND at The Fountain Theatre
26 Critics reviews - 96% Sweet

WITCH at the Geffen Playhouse
21 Critics reviews - 93% Sweet

HANDJOB by the Echo Theater Company
21 Critics reviews - 79% Sweet

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at the Ahmanson Theatre
21 Critics reviews - 76% Sweet

THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN by the Antaeus Theatre Company
20 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

SKINTIGHT at the Geffen Playhouse
19 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE by the Antaeus Theatre Company
19 Critics reviews - 97% Sweet

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY at The Fountain Theatre
19 Critics reviews - 79% Sweet

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS at the Ahmanson Theatre
18 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

MATTHEW BOURNE'S SWAN LAKE at the Ahmanson Theatre
18 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

1776 THE MUSICAL at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
18 Critics reviews - 94% Sweet

BRONCO BILLY - THE MUSICAL at the Skylight Theatre Company
18 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

AN INSPECTOR CALLS at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
18 Critics reviews - 81% Sweet

DEADLY at the Sacred Fools Theater Company
18 Critics reviews - 75% Sweet

ON BECKETT at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
17 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

HELLO DOLLY at the Pantages Theatre
17 Critics reviews - 97% Sweet

READY STEADY YETI GO at the Rogue Machine Theatre
17 Critics reviews - 82% Sweet

TOO MUCH SUN at the Odyssey Theatre
17 Critics reviews - 82% Sweet

SALVAGE at the Lounge Theatre
16 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

LOOT at the Odyssey Theatre
16 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

ANNE, A NEW PLAY at the Museum of Tolerance
16 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES at the Geffen Playhouse
16 Critics reviews - 84% Sweet

NICK DEAR'S FRANKENSTEIN at A Noise Within
16 Critics reviews - 78% Sweet

RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL at the Pasadena Playhouse
15 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

INDECENT at the Ahmanson Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
15 Critics reviews - 97% Sweet

DANA H. at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 97% Sweet

EIGHT NIGHTS by the Antaeus Theatre Company
15 Critics reviews - 93% Sweet

FALSETTOS at the Ahmanson Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

A KID LIKE JAKE by the IAMA Theatre Company
15 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

LACKAWANNA BLUES at the Mark Taper Forum
15 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

HYPE MAN at The Fountain Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

SCRAPS at the Matrix Theatre
15 critics reviews - 87% Sweet

OTHELLO at A Noise Within
15 Critics reviews - 80% Sweet

PARADISE at the Matrix Theatre
15 Critics reviews - 77% Sweet

LINDA VISTA at the Mark Taper Forum
15 Critics reviews - 77% Sweet

AUGUST WILSON'S JITNEY at the Mark Taper Forum
14 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TO DAD WITH LOVE: A TRIBUTE TO BUDDY EBSEN at Theatre West
14 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum
14 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

DIANA OF DOBSON'S by the Antaeus Theatre Company
14 Critics reviews - 93% Sweet

MOBY DICK - REHEARSED at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum
14 Critics reviews - 89% Sweet

THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER by Deaf West Theatre
14 Critics reviews - 89% Sweet

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at the Pasadena Playhouse
14 Critics reviews - 75% Sweet

TWO TRAINS RUNNING AT MATRIX at the Matrix Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

IN CIRCLES at the Odyssey Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TWELFTH NIGHT at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
13 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

RAGTIME at the Chance Theater
13 Critics reviews - 96% Sweet

NEIL SIMON'S MUSICAL FOOLS by the Open Fist Theatre Company
13 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

WITNESS UGANDA at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
13 Critics reviews - 92% Sweet

THE JOY WHEEL at the Ruskin Group Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

THE WOLVES by the Echo Theater Company
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

FAITH HEALER at the Odyssey Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

THE NICETIES at the Geffen Playhouse
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

ARGONAUTIKA at A Noise Within
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

THE PRODUCERS at the Celebration Theatre @ The Lex
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

FEFU AND HER FRIENDS at the Odyssey Theatre
13 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

LIGHTS OUT: NAT "KING" COLE at the Geffen Playhouse
13 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

GRUMPY OLD MEN: THE MUSICAL at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
13 Critics reviews - 77% Sweet

HAPPY DAYS at the Mark Taper Forum
12 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

CANYON at theLos Angeles Theatre Center
12 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

THE VANDAL at the Chance Theater
12 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Ruskin Group Theatre
12 Critics reviews - 96% Sweet

NANCY F***ING REAGAN at the Secret Rose Theatre
12 Critics reviews - 88% Sweet

AMERICA ADJACENT at theSkylight Theatre Company
12 Critics reviews - 83% Sweet

DEFENDERS at The Broadwater
12 Critics reviews - 79% Sweet

ANASTASIA at the Pantages Theatre
12 Critics reviews - 75% Sweet

JULIUS WEEZER at the El Portal Theatre
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

ANDY WARHOL’S TOMATO at the Pacific Resident Theatre
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

BURIED CHILD at A Noise Within
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

HERSHEY FELDER: A PARIS LOVE STORY at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
11 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

ANNA IN THE TROPICS by the Open Fist Theatre Company
11 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

THE GLASS MENAGERIE at A Noise Within
11 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

AT THE TABLE at The Road Theatre Company
11 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

MISS LILLY GETS BONED at the Rogue Machine Theatre
11 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

SISTERS IN LAW at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
11 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

THE GREAT LEAP at the Pasadena Playhouse
11 Critics reviews - 91% Sweet

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at the Odyssey Theatre
11 Critics reviews - 86% Sweet

M. BUTTERFLY at the South Coast Repertory
11 Critics reviews - 77% Sweet

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER by The Group Rep/Lonny Chapman Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 100% Sweet

TREYA'S LAST DANCE at the Hudson Theatres
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

DAMES AT SEA by the Sierra Madre Playhouse
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

NEVER IS NOW at the Skylight Theatre Company
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

THE NEW ONE at the Ahmanson Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 95% Sweet

FRIENDS WITH GUNS at The Road Theatre Company
10 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

ROALD DAHL'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL by 5 Star Theatricals
10 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

DISNEY'S FROZEN at the Pantages Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 90% Sweet

THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE by the 24th STreet Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

SPECIAL at the Theatre of Note
10 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

SWEENEY TODD - THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET at the South Coast Repertory
10 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

FIFTEEN MEN IN A SMOKE-FILLED ROOM at Theatre 40
10 Critics reviews - 85% Sweet

LOOSE KNIT by The Group Rep/Lonny Chapman Theatre
10 Critics reviews - 80% Sweet


Ashton's Audio Interview: The cast of “The Solid Life of Sugar Water” at Deaf West Theatre

Candid, uninhibited and visceral. A Deaf couple’s relationship is revealed through their lovemaking in a startlingly intimate portrait of a marriage — made even more intense by Deaf West Theatre’s signature performance style combining American Sign Language with spoken English.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “The Solid Life of Sugar Water” at Deaf West Theatre, playing through Oct 13th. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.

*taken from the website

TRANSCRIPT BELOW: 

This is Ashton Marcus and I’m on location at Deaf West Theatre for the American premier of THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER.

Ashton: Hi, my name is Ashton Marcus. I’m with KUCI, 88.9 FM in Irvine. I’m here with…

Sandra: My name is Sandra Mae Frank and this is my interpreter Elli. So I’ve been involved with that bus for a long time, since Spring Awakening to this production and I’m a deaf actor and I believe in doing amazing things and doing plays in different ways and doing new shows. This is a new show, you know, and it’s a beautiful and amazing, mixed hearing and deaf cast. And it’s amazing what hearing and deaf people can do together once you get rid of that barrier.

My character’s name is Alice. Alice is a strong woman. She is blunt, she is not afraid to speak her mind. She can do anything. And she shows her vulnerability throughout the show. Especially as a woman and how women face different things. They have to do more work emotionally and what-have-you. And Alice finds a way through that.

Ashton: Great! If my viewers decide to come see this piece, what should they expect to see?

Sandra: Really, you don’t set any expectations. Don’t come in with any expectations. This is not the kind of show that people leave with the same mindset. It’s the kind of show that provokes people’s feelings. Some people have experienced this, and some people know people who experience this. Everyone has gone through relationships in their live and love. And the lovemaking process in this show just, really, the point is, don’t expect anything. Just show up and watch and see what happens.

Ashton: Well, I really loved the piece because, basically, whenever I see deaf theatre, I think this is my third deaf piece I have seen, I’m always fascinated by the other senses, that, whether it’s by facial expression, whether by movement, by just a gyration, which mimics the meter a person speaks of.

So again, all this is just an art form, which is under appreciated which I just enjoy. The same as some people enjoy, say, impressionist art, as opposed to, say, realism.

Sandra: Yeah, absolutely. I think, really, both hearing and deaf actors, there is no big difference there, but like you just mentioned, facial expressions, hearing people typically have their grammar in their voice. They change tone, they change timbre when they are changing emotion. Deaf people have to take that tone and put it all onto their face to deliver the emotion in a broad way. I open up the emotion a little bit more that way. So there are different ways and different perspectives. And it’s all put on the stage and when you get both sides together it’s amazing.

Ashton: Actually, I also must comment that basically this is not suitable for children. Do you think that this was too sexual? What do you think of the sexuality of the play?

Sandra: It really depends on the parents (laughs) with their children obviously. I learned about sex when I was seven, so, I don’t know, but really, it’s very deep. It’s very sexual, yes. So I think it’s for mature audiences and it’s important to check with the parents first.

Ashton: I also like the fact that it’s actually a very basic type of play in a sense. It’s about, about, how should I put it. You know, good vs. evil. It’s not a complex type thing. But it’s very interesting when I see a play where there is a, almost like The Brady Bunch, where there is a man and a woman and they just have a good time. I’ve seen them mix the cast, where the woman is African American and it suddenly opens the world. You see them in a different light. It’s the same thing about this. Even though the play was not about, you know, tragedies of Macbeth, it was actually about, you know, a simple piece, it actually opened your eyes when it was done in this form, with deaf actors.

Sandra: Right. Absolutely. This is the kind of show where it’s a couple that goes through a trauma and a traumatic event and they try to reconnect through love making. That’s it. That’s really the point of the show. There is bad moments, there is good moments, and each individual has equally good and bad moments. Both men and women are experiencing the same thing in that moment and I think that’s what makes the show amazing. There is no obvious evil person. You know. That’s, it’s just life.

Ashton: Well, I loved your performance. I connected with you for some strange reason because usually, I don’t know why, because I don’t meet that many deaf people. I meet a lot of handicapped people but I don’t meet a whole lot of deaf people, so when you connect with a person, at times I’m wondering, why do I connect with them? Why do I have a good feeling about them? Why do I like her? Why is that? I really enjoyed your piece tonight.

Sandra: Thank you! It’s probably because you aren’t looking at me as a deaf person. You know, I was just a human. A human person in that moment going through that experience. And that’s a good thing. Yeah!

Ashton: Once again, thank you very much for being on the show.

Sandra: Thank you! It was nice meeting you! Thank you so much!

Ashton: Hi, my name is Ashton Marcus. I’m with KUCI, 88.9 FM in Irvine. I’m here with…

Tad: Hi. I’m Tad Cooley. I’m from Texas. I just recently moved to LA in January and I’m just really happy to make this my first performance with Deaf West. I’m very excited.

Ashton: Great. And which character did you play tonight?

Tad: I played the character of Phil. He is very neurotic. He is very neurotic about making the right decisions. Making the right choices in his perspective. But what happens when he acts on instinct, he makes the best decisions. And the story is about two people trying to find the connection with each other. And it’s just something terrible has happened to them, so we try to find the connection back again. And that’s really the point.

Ashton: Great. If my viewers decide to see this piece, what should they expect to see?

Tad: They should expect to laugh, cry, laugh again, cry again, and then laugh, and then smile and then cry.

Ashton: Well, I really enjoyed the performance tonight. I really liked your performance, too. How do you connect with the audience. Because, you know, I’m a hearing person, that’s why.

Tad: I think the connection is found, I think like for deaf people, who watch TV, you have to use captions, and so the captions are for hearing people in this case. So, for example, after a while, you just get this instinctual knowledge of knowing that the sound is happening but you are following the person and watching the actor on stage. I mean, I’m not speaking. I’m signing in that moment but after the first few scenes, the first few moments, you feel like “Okay. All right. I understand that the person is talking, and now I can focus on the person on stage signing. You know, we are all humans. We are all humans.

Ashton: I feel this piece is kind of like, you know, if you go to art shows, you can see realist art, but you can also see impressionist art. There are two different forms of art. This is kind of like that. If you see deaf theater, you, it appeals to other senses. You see more movement. You see, almost like dancing. Like seeing ballet. You know what I mean?

Tad: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a very musical language. I mean it’s tricky for me even because I’m not ISL fluent. I’m part of hearing myself. I recently, actually, I had to learn a lot of sign for this play. It was a challenge. But now I feel like, starting to become almost in my bones. So now I can really tell the story effectively.

Ashton: You know I really loved the performance because it was about a very basic type of story. It wasn’t really complex, like there is a world war, like that. But something about changing it up a little bit. If I were to see something like The Brady Bunch, where there is this white woman and this white man together and all they did is nice things, I wouldn’t like it very much. But suddenly, if you put an African American woman in there, suddenly things would just open up. Now that I see this kind of basic story line, it’s amazing when you add a deaf cast to it.

Tad: Yeah, that’s a good point. I think, DJ (David J. Kurs) had a vision about this play. Originally it was not written for deaf actors, but now, well, DJ saw it, he read it, and he thought it would be perfect for Deaf Actors. You know, the story, it makes the story much more interesting. It tells it in a much more interesting way.

Ashton: I agree. I really loved your acting. It was very expressive. I felt your emotions. And even though, again, we are communicating almost like in two different languages, I still understood everything. I felt all the feelings you tried to convey. So I really enjoyed your performance tonight!

Tad: Thank you so much! It was very nice to meet you!

Ashton: Thank you very much for being on the show.

Tad: Thank you! Thank you!

Ashton: Hi, my name is Ashton Marcus. I’m with KUCI, 88.9 FM in Irvine. I’m here with…

Natalie: Hi. I’m Natalie Comunas. I’m born and raised in Los Angeles and I’ve been acting for the last 10 years or so and I mainly do regional theatre across the US.

Ashton: Great. And which character did you do tonight?

Natalie: I played the voice of Alice. I think that Alice is a really beautiful representation, an actual representation, of what I imagine a woman would be going through in this really traumatic event. I think she shows incredible strength and vulnerability and I think those two are really hard to portray.

Ashton: I always ask that question: what’s the actors take on their character. Because they are the only ones who can do it. Like if you do Romeo and Juliet, you have two different actors, two at two totally different plays. In this particular case, you and the deaf actors were playing the same character. How is that different? What are your thoughts on that?

Natalie: Well, I think we definitely started with different ideas of how to justify having two of us saying the same words, and it kind of evolved into in me being the type of like a protector, some sort of, like higher self that already knows the story. Kind of like when you want to tell yourself what to do but you don’t listen. Like I’m that voice. So I already know where I’m going. But we are helping usher her through it. So that was my choice and how I played the voice of Alice.

Ashton: If my viewers decide to come and see this piece, what should they expect to see?

Natalie: What should they expect to see. They should expect to see a really really really honest portrayal of a couple in the midst of an incredibly traumatic situation and there is no guide book on how to get out of it.

Ashton: And this is the third piece I’ve actually seen with deaf actors and basically I feel that, it’s kind of a different take on theatre. Different senses emphasizing on sound, on vocal characteristics. And even the meter. You see almost like a dance to the person’s body when they are talking. What are your thoughts on that?

Natalie: I don’t think that’s specific to this show. I think that that’s part of every show. I think that every play and every ensemble has its own dance and its own rhythms. And I think that this one is really specific, just because all four of us really have to be incredibly in sync to be able to tell the same story.

Ashton: Well, I really enjoyed your performance tonight. Because even though it was a, you know, how should I put it. The story wasn’t a tragedy, because I basically love soul crushing pieces, but this added a different artistic taste to it the way it was presented. You know what I mean?

Natalie: That’s really interesting that you don’t think it’s a tragedy. I think it’s a devastating tragedy. I think it’s incredibly human and I think, you know, I think especially women are often, really families are shamed for going through miscarriages and stillbirths. And I know there are a lot of women in a lot of countries that are imprisoned because they have a stillbirth. And it’s “their fault”. And I think that plays like this can really work to get this conversation going about how miscarriages are fairly normal and it’s okay. And I think the more you talk about it, the more it can help couples get through that process.

Ashton: I agree. Once again, I loved the performance, and I loved your performance also. Than you very much for being on the show.

Natalie: Thank you so much!

Ashton: Hi, my name is Ashton Marcus. I’m with KUCI, 88.9 FM in Irvine. I’m here with…

Nick: Nick Apostolina. It’s a cool play. I’m so happy to be part of this play. So happy to be part of Deaf West in an incredible way. It’s a company that I’ve admired for a long time and it’s exciting to get to be thrown into it. Hope I’m doing an okay job. (laughs)

Ashton: Great! And which character are you playing tonight?

Nick: I’m the voice of Phil. So Tad Cooley is playing Phil. And I’m also playing Phil. The voice of Phil. It’s very complicated. Phil is an interesting guy. If you spend any time…, he is the kind of guy that everybody knows of Phil, very planning, very meticulous, trying to get things right, and never really…, the more you try to get things right, the more you are getting things wrong. So, an endearing character, hopefully, and an interesting story, and a heartbreaking story to go on.

Ashton: I basically always ask the actors, you know, what’s the take on their character. Cause you know, like two guys, basically who play Romeo in two different plays. They would be totally different plays even though it’s the same story. Right? In this case, we have two actors playing this character, Phil. How is that different? How can it express that? How is that unique?

Nick: I think it’s a balancing act. We talked about it, whether we are the same person.  Whether I’m listening to a subconscious. What we ended up deciding was, as long as we saw the same thing, as long…, because it’s a very reflective play, so if you see the same thing, and you can talk about it, you can talk about it in slight nuances but the character comes through if you are saying the same thing.

Ashton: Great! If my viewers decide to come see this piece, what should they expect to see?

Nick: Hopefully something funny, something, maybe a bit hard to watch but ultimately worthwhile, I hope? (laughs) Something worthwhile and life affirming. That’s a good word. Right? Life affirming.

Ashton: Yeah. I really loved the piece. It was kind of like, first of all it talks about things that are uncomfortable, like, again, it’s not a tragedy where people die, but it is tragic. It’s not a comedy basically, you know what I mean?

Nick: No.

Ashton: But it’s also a different kind of art because it’s hard to… It would be really hard for me to communicate. I probably just wind up smashing lots of dishes. But that’s what its like. You communicate in a different way. Not through words but through memories, kind of through body movements, kind of through gyrations,… You know what I mean?

Nick: Yeah, you’re trying, you’re trying to express something that’s wholly, usually inexpressible, and I think theatres are an ideal medium to do that. Especially with the cast we got here, with the ASL  and spoken english going on at the same time. You get so many different layers to the story. So it’s a hard thing to express or explain in a lot of different ways at the same time. Hopefully something comes through.

Ashton: Well, I really loved the performance. I loved your performance. I love your voice. (laughs)

Nick: Thank you very much. Thank you!

Ashton: Thank you very much for being on the show!

Nick: I appreciate it!

End: The Solid Life of Sugar Water will be playing at Deaf West Theatre, from September 12th to October 13th. For more information, go to www.DeafWest.org.


Dot-Marie Jones Wrestling From A Glee-ful Beiste Into an OUR TOWN Gossip

Dot-Marie Jones has been acting professionally since 1992, but it's her five-year stint as Coach Beiste in the Fox hit series Glee that propelled her into instant street recognition. Dot's latest acting gig has her portraying the character of Mrs. Soames in Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN, a co-production of the Pasadena Playhouse and Deaf West Theatre which just began September 26, 2017.

Dot took a few minutes away during rehearsal week to answer some of my probing inquiries.

Thank you for taking time out for this interview!

Pasadena Playhouse. 2017. Our Town. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Do you like to be called Dot? Or Dot-Marie?

Dot.

In various press releases and websites, I find a floating hyphen in your name that seems to change positions or completely disappear. Why the different spelling of your name?

For SAG-AFTRA, I go by Dot-Marie Jones. That happened because in 1994 when I went to join SAG, there was a Dottie Jones, and SAG thought it was too close! So I just put the hyphen and joined as Dot-Marie Jones. Marie is my middle name. And Dot is short for Dorothy, my birth name. 

Have you seen any other productions of OUR TOWN?

No. 

Have you seen any productions at The Pasadena Playhouse in your years living and working in Los Angeles?

Yes, most recently we, my wife and our 17-year-old daughter, saw A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN. In fact, we loved it so much we saw it THREE times. Mary Bridget Davies was fantastic! 

This co-production of the Pasadena Playhouse and Deaf West Theatre will feature bilingual staging in American Sign Language and English. Did you have to learn sign language for this production? Or were you already fairly versed in it?

I am indeed learning ASL. I was a little familiar with it. I had studied with friends who had a deaf daughter. We would meet at their house once a week and worked with Bob Hilterman, a deaf actor, to better our skills and better our communication with their daughter. It's been quite a few years though. I'm learning so much, I love every minute of it.

You were part of the Fox hit series Glee from 2010 to 2015. Do you still get stopped on the street by people shouting out your character's name "Coach Beiste"?

Ha! Ha! Yes, I do. It was an amazing experience and I loved being a part of Glee because of how many people it helped! 

How would you compare and contrast your characters of Coach Beiste with Mrs. Soames in this production?

Wow, good question. They are totally different. Beiste was strong, but yet kind of stuck to herself. Mrs. Soames is more of a gossip and sociable. Not so much for Beiste, though she tried.

As a 15-time world arm wrestling champion, do you still arm wrestle for fun or for exposition?

No, but I wish I could! My shoulders are shot from so many years of weight training and arm-wrestling, and also throwing the shot put. Those were some incredible years. I loved every one of them.

Any immediate projects for you, you can share with us?

Pasadena Playhouse. 2017. Our Town. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Working on a new show/film Combat Nuns about crime fighting nuns. It's so fun and I'm working with friends. They were some of my first friends in L.A. over 25 years. Also working on a web series. Not sure if I can share that right now.

What would your dream role on stage be for you? 

Would be a dream to play Madame Morrible from WICKED. And Mama Morton from CHICAGO

What particular message of Thornton Wilder resonates with you, and that you hope the Pasadena Playhouse audience will be receptive of?

That life is fleeting. So enjoy every minute and hold tightly to the people you love  

Thank you again! I look forward attending your TOWN's socials at the Playhouse.

For OUR TOWN ticket availability and show schedule through October 22, 2017; log onto www.pasadenaplayhouse.org