Day 19: On ASL and theatre of/for the deaf

by Tobi Mattingly | Aug 9, 2016

What is a “deaf play”?

A play written by a deaf playwright for deaf actors, but could also be performed by a hearing-abled cast? A play with a storyline about being deaf and/or the deaf experience? A play performed in sign language? A play with a supporting character who is deaf? A play with an all-deaf cast or just one deaf character?

These are the questions explored by deaf playwright Sabina England in a piece on HowlRound earlier this year entitled Deaf Playwriting: A New Art Form.

England is certainly not the only theatremaker diving into these questions lately. From Deaf West’s Broadway-transferred reimagining of Spring Awakening to Red Theatre Chicago’s multiple-extended run of R+J: The Vinyard, theatre of/for the deaf is clearly an area of interest.

The pieces linked here explore details of how two theatres approached the topic, and England’s piece on the earliest aspects of creating such work is particularly insightful for other theatres who may be considering a similar production. (If you’re wanting to dive more deeply into the topic, England’s article was actually one in a series HowlRound presented on deaf theatre – the rest of the series is linked at the top of that article.)


Tobi Mattingly is a Chicago-based director, actor, music director, and teaching artist. She is the founder of Artistic Conspiracy, an arts organization dedicated to creating and enabling world-changing theatre. Through this organization, she helps professional theatremakers take control of their theatre careers through learning and balancing artistic craft, bodymind practices, and business/marketing management.