SEEING MUSIC: GROUNDBREAKING DEAF MUSICAL THE BLACK DRUM AIMS TO ASTOUND AUDIENCES

Deaf actors find their voice as growing number of plays made accessible for deaf and hearing audiences

From left to right: Corinna Den Dekker, Dawn Jani Birley, Yan Liu and Daniel Durant in The Black Drum, which combines dance, movement, signed music and a rich visual design. (Dahlia Katz/Soulpepper)

A “deaf musical” may sound like a contradiction in terms, but that’s exactly how the creators of a new play called The Black Drum are describing it.

“A lot of people think deaf people cannot appreciate music, but that’s not true,” said lead actor Dawn Jani Birley.

“The world of a deaf person is very different when it comes to music. Because you depend on your ears to receive information and music. We depend on our eyes.”

Produced by the Deaf Culture Centre in collaboration with Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company, The Black Drum aims to show both deaf and hearing audiences how music can be not only appreciated but also expressed by deaf actors using movement and sign language.

Written by deaf playwright Adam Pottle and performed by seven deaf actors along with three child ballet dancers from the E.C. Drury School for the Deaf, it combines movement, signed music, motion capture projections and dance into a rich visual experience for both deaf and hearing audiences. The only musical instrument played live onstage is a large drum that is amplified and augmented by a prerecorded deep rumbling bass sound track. The strong vibrations can be felt by deaf audience members.

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