Arts Express Seeks Inclusion of the Deaf and Blind Community in Theatre with Shrek The Musical Production

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Samantha Moore  (ASL), Amber Shorter (ASL) and Jordan Grant (English) play the roles of Fiona in Shrek. - COURTESY OF ARTS EXPRESS
  • Courtesy of Arts Express
  • Samantha Moore (ASL), Amber Shorter (ASL) and Jordan Grant (English) play the roles of Fiona in Shrek.

Here's something different.

Imagine a fully staged production of the Shrek in musical form, complete with costumes and sets and lights. OK, that's easy enough. But when I say fully staged, I mean that the stage will be full of all kinds of students, including those from the deaf and blind community.

Not only will there be a full-voiced, full-sighted Shrek singing and dancing his way into our hearts, but shadowing that Shrek will be a hearing-impaired actor performing the same character in American Sign Language. This shadowing technique will be extended to most of the characters, and blind students will be in on the staging and singing as well.

This unique theater event will be given life by Arts Express, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to providing arts education and family entertainment,” says Karen F. Wiese, Executive Director. This is the third year they have done a musical. Last year it was Beauty and The Beast, and the first was Big River. These productions are a central feature of their Arts Express Building careACTOR program.

“We've seen some incredible things happen,” says Weise.

The program grew out of partnerships with Broadway in Tucson and UA Presents. A mixed group (hearing and deaf) went to see Blue Man Group several years ago, and after the performance students participated in a workshop focused on miming.

“A young girl said afterward that she had made a new friend who she didn't even know was deaf until after the workshop,” she says.

Weise says a light bulb came on and she realized that with the help of the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, an unconventional approach to making theater could be nurtured by Arts Express.
It's an enormous undertaking, but it has an equally enormous impact. Bringing diverse student actors together allows them to see beyond how they have been categorized, and they learn to respect each other.

By combining synchronized speaking and signing, as well as music and dance, the group turns out a one of its kind production. And this, says Weise, is the only organization in the country doing this type of work.

Shrek The Musical plays this weekend on Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2 at 7 p.m., as well as Sunday, April 3 afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Berger Performing Arts Center (1200 W. Speedway Blvd.) on the campus of the ASDB. Tickets are $15 and they usually sell out. You can call for more information at 319-0400 or visit the Arts Express website

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