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Deaf, hearing cast collaborates on ‘Beast’

Deaf, hearing cast collaborates on ‘Beast’

CHAMPION — “See No Beast, Hear No Beast, Speak No Beast” uses a familiar fairy tale to address issues in deaf education.

James Caverly co-wrote the production and is directing the play at Kent State University at Trumbull, where it opens Friday for a two-weekend run.

The production addresses the ongoing debate over whether nonhearing children should be taught to communicate primarily through American sign language (ASL) or through speech therapy and lip reading.

“We have incorporated it into ‘Beauty and the Beast,'” he said during an interview conducted with ASL interpreter.

“The whole point of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is looking for that inner beauty. So for the deaf, we have deaf teachers like (the character) Dennis, who thinks they are lesser than him because he can hear and speak, and they can’t. So when he is cursed by the witch and becomes the beast, now he has to look inside of himself for his own beauty as a deaf person.”

“See No Beast” is the fourth ASL / English play staged at Kent-Trumbull, following “For Every Man, Woman and Child” in 2009, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 2013 and “Another Christmas Carol” in 2017, and the success of those productions spawned Deaf Theatre of Ohio, whose mission is to empower deaf people through theatrical productions presented primarily through American sign language and its members worked on developing the “Beauty and the Beast” adaptation.

The show has a cast of 14 people, six of whom are deaf. The script evolved to accommodate the make up of the cast.

“We were not sure how many deaf people would be involved in the cast,” Caverly said. “A lot of deaf people tend to be in bigger cities. It’s more accessible in those bigger cities. I was surprised how many came, but there weren’t that many, so we had to modify the script.”

The cast features Ammauri Peters, who co-wrote the script, as Bella and Shane Glaeser as Dennis / Beast, with Judas Glassmeyer, Robert Ellway, Kurt Cullison, Courtney Baumer, Joao Ciuba Dos Santos, Ariel Simones, Jeremy Strong, Becky Robinson, Nicholas Lilly, Delaney Fox, Samantha Cox and Kisha Leland.

There will be projected subtitles used for much of the dialogue, translating both the sign language and the spoken word for those who need it.

Caverly grew up in Michigan and his interest in the theater started at a young age.

“I guess growing up, I was always a goofball, the class clown in the family, always making up stories and acting them out,” he said.

When he told his family and his school counselors that he wanted to be an actor, they were less than encouraging. But while going to college at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., he realized there was a whole list of jobs in the theater that he could do in addition to acting.

“Yeah, it will be hard to find work, but this is what I’ve been doing as a profession for almost nine years now,” said Caverly, who graduated from Gallaudet in 2011.

He was an understudy on Broadway for the 2018 revival of “Children of a Lesser God,” and he appeared in two episodes of the NBC series “Chicago Med” and has worked in regional theater and improv.

Caverly said he’s seen increased opportunities for the deaf in the theater even during his relatively short professional career, but at the same time he sees the issues addressed by “See No Beast” as undercutting that progress.

“More deaf schools are closing or are downsizing,” he said. “More schools with deaf programs are downsizing, and many of the deaf schools are becoming assimilated into hearing culture, so they are losing their language and becoming more isolated, so what does that mean for the future of deaf culture the future of deaf theater?”

While this will be the first full-scale production of “See No Beast,” Caverly hopes it won’t be the last.

“I am talking with Ammauri, she is co-writer of this play, and possibly it could continue on,” he said. “We could try and propose it to other theater companies, maybe deaf theater companies around the U.S.”