Dr. Lezlie C. Cross

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ASL Titus


In creating this adaptation of Titus Andronicus into American Sign Language, the creative team — Christine Albright-Tufts, Lezlie Cross, and Howie Seago — aims to create the first completely accessible theatrical experience in which both Deaf and hearing audiences will be able to attend any performance, sit anywhere in the house, and receive a full experience of the story. Unlike other productions at major theatres which feature Deaf performers, this play brings not just one or two deaf actors into a predominantly hearing show, but creates a play immersed in Deaf culture. This pioneering project will be the first fully bicultural Deaf production of Shakespeare in American theatrical history.

Our Titus opens in a Rome which is completely bilingual. In this imagined modern society, Deaf and hearing people live side-by-side in harmony. The infrastructure of the society provides equal access for people of all hearing abilities through a system of interpreters and electronic media tools such as computer assisted real-time transcription (CART). This enables a deaf family, the Andronici, to gain prominence through their military prowess. The daughter, Lavinia, is the only hearing member of the family and operates as their official interpreter. This cultural balance of power changes when the Emperor dies. His two sons vie for the crown. The eldest, Saturninus, believes that the society should go back to prioritizing hearing people and the English language. But Bassianus, partially due to his engagement to Lavinia, sees the manifold benefits in maintaining bilingualism. When Titus, the patriarch of the Andronici, uses his considerable influence to crown Saturninus and the newly minted Emperor chooses the Queen of the Goths as his bride, the balance of power begins to shift toward English speakers. Slowly, access for the Deaf is to be taken away. Interpreters disappear. The CART machines are unplugged. And the Andronici quickly go from respected military leaders to dangerous rebels.

In creating this adaptation, the creative team has worked with the most renowned Deaf Shakespeareans throughout the country, including two transformational workshops: the first at Gallaudet University and the second at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. These collaborations with notable Deaf artists have shaped the nature of the adaptation, as all of our choices spring from an abiding respect for the Deaf perspective, culture, and experience. A notable feature of this version is an emphasis on visual storytelling which includes manifesting offstage scenes onstage, animating Shakespeare’s visual poetry through ASL, and using digital media as a communication tool. We believe that this visual approach to the play will electrify both hearing and Deaf audiences, as we live in such a visually oriented culture.

In order to create this adaptation, we had to address three vexing questions: 1) How do you create a scene Deaf audiences can understand when only hearing characters are on stage? 2) How do you create a scene hearing audiences can understand when there are only Deaf characters or their family members on stage? 3) How does a hearing character who does not sign and a Deaf character communicate? As you will see in the script, we have come up with a variety of solutions from traditional translation to digital media solutions to parallel scenes to mime to bringing off-stage scenes on stage. In all of our workshops, we also discovered that the eyes of audiences tire quickly, through intensive watching, and therefore we have aggressively trimmed the text.

This script is an adaptation ready for translation in to ASL. The act of translation for Deaf actors is as important and personal as a hearing actor’s choice of tone, pace, and inflection. We have therefore not translated the script, but leave that work to be completed by the cast preparing for production. The script calls for six Deaf actors (possibilities for doubling could make it five), one Hard of Hearing actor of color, seven hearing actors who are either fluent in ASL or can sign. The production would also require a Sign Master to aid with the translation and a Sign Coach to work with the actors. We also think it is essential that the artistic team include Deaf artists. With a full cast and Deaf members of the artistic team, we would need 3-4 interpreters per rehearsal room and 2 for meetings.

Should the script interest you, please contact Dr. Lezlie Cross at lezlie.cross@unlv.edu

About the Creative Team

Christine Albright-Tufts is an Assistant Professor at Oklahoma City University. She got her M.F.A. from the University of California-San Diego. A professional actress for the last 18 years, she has worked at Arena Stage, the Goodman Theatre, Berkeley Rep, Seattle Rep, the Marin Theatre Company, the Mint Theatre Company, the La Jolla Playhouse, and many others. She has been a company member at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) since 2006, where she worked as an actor, director, and teaching artist. OSF credits include Juliet, Titania, Lady Percy, and the world premiere of Bill Cain’s Equivocation. Christine was awarded a Theatre Bay Area Critic’s Circle Award for Best Actress for her performance as Mother in the West Coast premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Oldest Boy. In addition to her acting career, Christine has taught at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, Southern Oregon University, and the University of California-San Diego. She has devised curriculum for audiences and teachers at OSF, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Chicago Youth Shakespeare, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, and the Guthrie Theatre.

Lezlie C. Cross is an Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where she teaches courses in theatre history, critical analysis, and dramaturgy. She is the Associate Artistic Director of the Nevada Conservatory Theatre and has worked as a dramaturg at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Classic Stage Company, and eight seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where she was the Literary Assistant from 2004 to 2009. Her articles and book reviews appear in Shakespeare Bulletin, Theatre History Studies, The Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Theatre Survey, andTheatre Annualand the book projects Shakespeare Expressed:  Page, Stage, and Classroomand Performing Objects and Theatrical Things. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington, a M.A. from The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, UK, and a B.A. from Whitman College.

Howie Seago: Howie’s professional credits include acting, directing, producing and teaching for over 40 years. His film appearances include Wonderstruck, a Todd Haynes film starring Julianne Moore; a featured role in Beyond Silence(Jenseits der Stille), nominated for an Oscar Award – Best Foreign Film (1998); Grishain post-production. He appeared on television in Star Trek: The Next Generation,Hunter, and The Equalizer. Howie has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., La Jolla Playhouse, Off-Broadway, and in international tours. He performed leading roles in Peter Sellars’s productions of Ajaxand The Persiansand with the National Theatre of the Deaf. He appeared in multiple roles in fourteen plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival over seven years. His acting work has been recognized through several awards including the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Actor, Dramalogue Award and Joe Velez Memorial Award. As an Associate Producer, he was instrumental in the creation of Rainbow’s End, an Emmy award winning PBS television series. In Washington state, he co-founded: the Deaf Youth Drama Program at Seattle Children’s Theatre; The Shared Reading Video Outreach Project, an award winning literacy program delivered to deaf children via long distance videoconferencing; and the Deaf Teen Leadership camp. He is featured in the books Actors’ Lives– On and Off the American Stage(Theatre Communications Group); Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists, (Jean Kennedy Smith/George Plimpton, Random House); Living Legends: Six Stories About Successful Deaf People(Butte Publications) His article, “In an Alien World of Sound” was published in Theaterschrift, an international theatre magazine.




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