‘A Journey with Richard: A Deaf Man’s Commentary on ‘Richard III’ at NextStop Theatre Company’ by Michael Sprouse

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The house lights dims, and the stage is flooded with elegant people dressed up for a formal occasion. I spot a man who looks around trying to fit in, and awkwardly raising his glass and barely understanding what was the occasion, but he caught on. He tries to rise to the occasion by giving a speech, in a language he knew, sign language, he starts, but suddenly everyone leaves, not acknowledging him or his obviously rehearsed speech. He tries to get attention, but is futile. Who is that man? It is none other than Richard of Gloucester who happens to be Deaf. I am also that man too. Growing up in a hearing family, there has been many a occasion where I try to partake in a occasion and I struggle to be heard. Often I am told that I will be owed an explanation later, which often never happens, or most of the times, like Richard, I am ignored.

Moments later, I see Richard interacting with various people around his court, and notice the others do not speak his native language, but Richard manages to get by just fine. I am reminded of my days in public school, in mainstream setting, to be mainstreamed means a Deaf person is placed in a class with his hearing and non-signing peers. Often I had to lip-read, and my peers never really learned how to sign.

Ethan Sinnott (Richard III) and the cast of NextStop's Richard III. Photo by Rebekah Purcell, VSION.
Ethan Sinnott (Richard III) and the cast of NextStop’s Richard III. Photo by Rebekah Purcell, VSION.

Richard often finds himself questioning the loyalty of those around him because; he is not sure what is actually being said. I had experiences like that when I show up to job interviews and often, at the conclusion of the interviews, I see my interviewers whisper to one another, and I am told that I would be an interesting candidate and they would consider working with me, but I usually never heard from them, and I have asked my Deaf peers, and they say this also has often happened to them, because many consider the Deafness as a hindrance rather than an advantage.

Charlie Ainsworth  (Tyrell). Photo by Rebekah Purcell, VSION.
Charlie Ainsworth
(Tyrell). Photo by Rebekah Purcell, VSION.

He finally meets his match, in a form of James Tyrell who, like him, signs. He befriends him and entrusts him to do a valuable task that would prove to be crucial in his plans to ascend to the throne. I still remember the excitement when I first met my first friend who was just like me, Deaf and a signer, the world around me suddenly changed and I developed a bond that is so unique, and that bond still stands to this day, however, I have developed many more bonds with my signing peers.

Richard’s reasoning to ascend to the throne is obvious to me, he is trying to ascend to the throne, for two reasons, one is to command attention from a family that has long neglected him or considered him to be merely a member of the family. The other reason is to prove what he is capable of doing. It is a common occurrence that hearing people, in their ignorance do underestimate or assume that Deaf people cannot do routine tasks like taking calls, or driving a car. It is a common struggle for many Deaf people to reach high tiered level jobs like, CEOs of Companies (There are so few Deaf People who are actually CEOs of Fortune 500 companies), The high tiered positions that Deaf people are often in, are usually Educational Administration of Deaf Schools.

The experiences that Richard has, are also the experiences of many Deaf people around the nation and world. There is a bit of Richard in all of us (minus the villainous scheming) who aspires to get to the top, and have people recognize what we, the Deaf are capable of doing. For me, Richard is like a reflection in the mirror of my Deaf soul within me.

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Richard III is playing through February 23, 2014 at NextStop Theatre Company – 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.