As a director, I had the pleasure of bringing the captivating theatrical production of AFTER FAUST to life at the Fringe Theatre Arts Barns. This innovative Deaf-led sequel show delved into the untold story of Mephistopheles, the demon from the classic tragedy of Doctor Faustus. Through the mesmerizing performances of our Deaf cast, we explored the profound questions of forgiveness and self-transformation that lay beneath the surface.
In addition, we dived into thought-provoking themes such as mental health, depression, loss, and magic. Each character was personal to the actors. The show was designed to evoke emotions and spark contemplation, allowing the audience to connect deeply with the characters and their journeys.
This production is one of my favourite theatrical production that I have directed merely because this was a theatre that challenged accessibility.
There is no one way to be deaf
Many people believe that being Deaf in a Deaf space automatically means that it is accessible. That is far from the truth which was proven in this production. For example:
- One actor uses ASL (American sign language) as their primary language which is challenging with a script that is heavily written in English. They had struggled during the first week of rehearsal before we tried another method: they sign with their partner while blocking. They were able to quickly internalize the script and deliver their lines!
- One actor’s primary language is LSQ (Langue des signes québécoise) which requires them to have a French script to accommodate their linguistic needs.
- One actor struggled with the heavily scripted English lines due to their additional disability. To address this, we adapted their script by transforming the dialogue into a captivating choreography that made the performance more visually engaging. It not only eased their struggles but also added a very unique artistic element to the production.
Embracing the diversity and individuality within the Deaf community, we celebrated the multitude of ways in which Deaf individuals navigate their world, affirming that there is no singular path or approach to being Deaf.
Producer/Playwright and Director: A Dynamic Collaboration
Many Deaf, Disabled and Mad artists often have multiple hats. This is due to us having to create our own opportunities due to an inaccessible theatre world.
This much is true with Connor Yuzwenko-Martin, a talented emerging artist, who wears multiple hats as a producer, playwright, social media promoter, and interpreter coordinator.
I am forever grateful for his support as we created a production that resonated deeply with both the deaf and hearing communities. His dedication, transparency and commitment were instrumental in bringing this vision to fruition.
Our dynamic relationship was unique, as he assumed various roles, including producer and playwright, drawing from his own personal experiences. Here is an example of when we confronted challenges and how we resolved them. Please note that we are both emerging artists in theatre and are learning how the theatre world functions. I am merely sharing this as a resource for others who may be new.
- Power shift: It was beneficial to have Connor be a part of the rehearsal as a playwright in the beginning which allowed the actors to ask him questions about the play and their characters. However, it became challenging by the second week as it clashed with my directional approach which created a conflict. It was very difficult for me to express myself as he was also a producer.
- Lack of creative freedom: His being in the room every day also restricted the actors. Not only that but DEAF actors who are very sensitive with their eyes. This means they can see every twitch, every shift and every paper moving slightly on the table with any decision they make about their character. This became more of a hindrance than a help.
- Emotional involvement: This play is deeply personal to him and his living experience which meant that we had to tread carefully with this production to ensure this play does it justice for him and his loved one.
The solution? I chatted with him during the second week of rehearsal and we discussed all these challenges. We ultimately settled on him not being a part of the rehearsal the entire time and that he would focus primarily on his role as a producer, allowing the actors to dive into their characters and bring their own experiences to the forefront. Should we need him, I would consult him as a playwright and he would be free to input his thoughts with me if he dislikes something. I also extended an invitation for him to consider hiring another director if my vision didn’t align with his. This decision was made to prioritize the artistic integrity of the production, and I assured him that it was not personal.
In the end… I asked for him to trust me as a director and I will never take that for granted. I am beyond honoured.
Where are the laser lights?!
That was totally my theme during the tech week and paint me yellow because I was beaming like the sun for weeks when my wish was granted! A special shout out to Judah Truong (Technical Director) for putting up with all my crazy ideas and to Kiidra Duhault (Stage Manager) for making magic happen during the technical week. To enhance the storytelling, we incorporated elements like flashing lights, brief laser effects, and haze, all skillfully employed to create an atmosphere that left a lasting impression. With the help of Christen Long (Projection & Captions) integrating English captions into the performance, we ensured that some audience could fully engage with the production. The mood was set with the help of the lighting and colouring to match the set and costume designs which helped build the world thanks to Rory Turner (Lighting) and Madeline Blondal (Set & Costume). Aaaaand yes, Deaf people do enjoy sound too! So many thanks to Dave Clarke (Sound) and Derek Miiller (Associate Sound Designer). They were also quick to design the music to match each scene. The most impactful change was for Hodan Youuself’s character.
For this, I would like to thank the creative and technical crew for breathing life onto the stage. This would not have been possible without all of their help.
And of course, I cannot forget Pat Darbasie who was our Directorial Dramaturg and her support means the world to me. Her wisdom and knowledge have taught me so much as a director. I truly would have been lost without her guidance.
Lastly, I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the remarkable cast members who breathed life into their characters. Mustafa Alabssi as CASSIO, Gaitrie Killings as MEPHISTOPHELES, Jan McCarthy as THOMAS AQUINAS, Kayla Bradford Sinasac as PEIA, and Hodan Youssouf as ELON MUSK delivered performances that left audiences spellbound.
It was an honour to be part of the After Faust journey and witness the impact it had on the audience. I am grateful for the opportunity to create and share this powerful experience, and I look forward to future endeavours that continue to push boundaries and ignite the imaginations of theatre lovers everywhere.