A Backstage Pass to Making a Musical for the Deaf

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My organization, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, has spent the last season and a good part of the summer talking about different opportunities to be more inclusive.  Our state arts council has placed a high importance on this and is being a driver of some innovative thinking in Tennessee arts groups.

Last season, we worked with a local organization serving children and family with autism to present several sensory friendly concerts.  They were very well received and we’re planning them again this season.

In thinking about ways to serve other underserved populations, I’m often stymied by how to include the deaf population in Chattanooga.  There are some beautiful visuals that come from a concert experience, but the whole point of a musical concert is the music.  How can that aspect of a concert be shared?

I don’t have an answer to that question (but would love to hear yours), but I did see a July 2015 BuzzFeed article come across my newsfeed by Colin Weathersby that gives a behind the scenes look at Deaf West’s Theatre‘s new production of the musical Spring Awakening.

There’s a five minute video with interviews with actors and artistic staff that talks about the complexities of producing and presenting an artistic work that is so aural. Hours of rehearsals, translation into sign language, creative cue giving went into the rehearsals.  DJ Kurs, the artistic director said, “One thing that we work really hard to do is bring the emotion that’s in the fabric of the musical and the story into the language that we use to perform the music.”

It’s a really interesting video that I think will challenge many of us to reconsider ways of delivering our art and making it more inclusive.

About Sarah Marczynski

Sarah joined the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera in 2010 working with the Marketing and Development staffs and quickly became interested in community engagement and education. She holds a Master’s of Public Administration focusing in Nonprofit Arts Management from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where her capstone and other work under Dr. Christopher Horne examined attendance patterns in high-art cultural institutions and network relationships between local arts agencies and cultural partners. She also holds a Bachelor’s of Vocal Music Education from UTC, where she studied under Dr. Kevin Ford and Ron Ulen.

Sarah has been active in the Chattanooga arts community, serving as the founding chair of the Chattanooga Young Artistic Network (CYAN), graduating from the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute, and working with the Chattanooga Boys Choir, the Choral Arts Society, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Chattanooga Bach Choir.

Outside of the arts world, Sarah pretends to be an excellent cook (but she's broken 2 ovens), reads Jane Austen novels, and watches way too much House of Cards.

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