When the National Technical Institute for the Deaf did a production of Godspell on the Rochester Institute of Technology campus earlier this year, the musical was so well received that NTID is taking it to a bigger audience.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, the NTID Performing Arts Program will put on the show at the Fielding Stage of the Geva Theatre Centre.
Half of the 20 performers are deaf and use American Sign Language while the others speak. Throughout the production, the audience can enjoy the musical entirely in American Sign Language or spoken English — with the help of members of the cast also serving as interpreters.
It will be the first time that a production of deaf actors and actresses will perform at Geva, said Luane Davis Haggerty, a director of the NTID Performing Arts Program.
“This is a huge breakthrough. Geva has never had a deaf theater production and NTID never had a student performance at Geva,” said Haggerty, who in addition to being on the faculty of NTID for 15 years has coordinated sign language interpretation for Geva audiences.
Mark Cuddy, artistic director for Geva, welcomed the opportunity.
“It’s an important partnership for us,” he said. “We have various higher education partnerships around the region, but have not hosted a performance from NTID yet.”
Haggerty, however, was involved in an earlier effort to introduce the Rochester community to deaf performers.
Two years ago, NTID performers teamed up with voice actors from The Shakespeare Players program of the Rochester Community Players for 11 performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Highland Bowl.
The Fielding Stage at Geva seats 180. In addition to Friday’s and Saturday’s performances, the NTID Performing Arts production is also scheduled for two performances in New York City — at the Lexington School for the Deaf in Jackson Heights on June 4 and at the IRT (Interborough Repertory Theater) on June 5. Haggerty is a co-founder of IRT.
Godspell, first performed in New York City in the early 1970s, features musical parables from the Gospel of Matthew. In the show, Jesus recruits a group of followers and — using song and dance— teaches them lessons.
Most of the cast are still students at RIT, while about a half dozen of them just graduated. NTID is one of the colleges of RIT and during the school year has an enrollment of about 1,400 students.
The Rochester metro area has about 43,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing residents — the highest per capita for people under 65.
The 1965 federal legislation that created NTID stressed the need to provide technical and professional educational programs for the deaf population.
In the NTID Geva production, RIT student Braden Chadzik is the voice of Jesus —and speaks and signs while playing the piano. He is offstage, in the pit.
Onstage, Malik Paris, who is deaf, plays Jesus, and communicates in sign language.
Music is also played on computerized recordings — with the cast providing the words, both in sign language and in voice.
“The experience of watching a musical is very physical, visceral and visible,” said Haggerty. “It is more emotional watching it this way.”
Staff writer Sean Lahman contributed to this report.
If you go
The NTID Performing Arts Program production at Geva’s Fielding Stage is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Tickets can be purchased at the box office of the Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Blvd., in downtown Rochester and are $15 for students, seniors and children and $20 for all others.
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