There was one important characteristic Director Julia Ashworth was looking for in the student actor playing the lead role in BYU Arts’ newest production, The Taste of Sunrise. He needed to be deaf.
This month at BYU, the Department of Theatre and Media Arts is putting on a bilingual contemporary drama – opening on March 10 for a 13-show run in the Harris Fine Arts Center’s Margetts Theatre – where every line spoken will also be signed. Every character has a shadow signer: an actor who moves and acts with him or her on stage and signs all the lines in American Sign Language.
The lead role of Tuc – a man struggling to navigate the path of loss, love and language in his silent world – is played by Ben Featherstone. Feathersone is deaf, but wears a cochlear implant so that he can read lips and hear vibrations. Two other cast members are also hard of hearing: David Hampton (who plays Dr. Grindly Mann and other characters) and Jason Keeler (who plays Roscoe). Many of the cast members are fluent in ASL or have taken ASL classes at BYU.
Set against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties in Illinois, this award-winning drama explores the cultural complexities of deafness with great humor and compassion. Ashworth hopes this significant story will provide equal access to hearing, deaf and hard of hearing audiences in the community.
“I feel privileged to bring together deaf, hard of hearing and hearing actors to find the best way to tell this significant story,” said Ashworth. “Producing The Taste of Sunriseaddresses issues of equality that are important to me as a theatre artist.”
Acting is a new experience for Featherstone. He took on this role to prove to himself that being deaf isn’t a limitation. He hopes that when the audience sees him on stage they will feel empowered as well.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re deaf, or if you’re hearing,” said Featherstone. “What matters is that you are important in God’s eyes. There is no difference, we’re all equal. That’s the message I would share with the world.”
The Taste of Sunrise is the second play in Suzan Zeder’s critically acclaimed Ware Trilogy, which will be presented throughout the year in its entirety in partnership with Utah Valley University.
Tickets are $8-14, with discounts available for alumni, students, employees, senior citizens and groups. Tickets can be purchased in person at the BYU Ticket Office in the Harris Fine Arts Center or Marriott Center, by phone at 801-422-2981 or online at byuarts.com.