Spring Awakening and Accessibility on Broadway

One week ago today, I was given the chance to see closing night of Deaf West’s production of Spring Awakening. I’d been hearing about this production for almost a year– being an ASL student and having a teacher who knows how much I love musicals and Broadway, it would’ve been really hard to not hear about it! I really didn’t know much about the musical. I knew a couple of songs and really liked them, but I never really explored beyond that, partially because I don’t listen to cast albums without having seen the show first(with the exception of Hamilton because I mean Hamilton), partially because I just kept forgetting. That said, I followed the production as it made its way from Los Angeles to New York City, watched Andy Mientus’s vlogs pretty much religiously, and wished that I could make it to NYC in time to see the show, since it was originally going to close on January 7th.

A few weeks after my mom and I had booked our trip to the city for BroadwayCon, we found out that the dates for DWSA were extended just barely through when we would be there, and needless to say, I freaked out. I was finally going to get to see this show I had heard so much about and wanted to see so badly. I wanted to see it especially because sign language has become a relatively large part of my life over the past two years. Not to toot my own horn, but I somehow raced through three years and three levels of ASL in just under two years. It’s the only language I’ve actually lasted more than a couple of semesters with, not to mention it’s the only language I actually ‘get’ and connect with.

I think it goes without saying that the production was amazing. There was something almost electric about seeing it on closing night–The audience would applaud every time a new cast member entered the stage, everyone was just so excited, and there was a five minute standing ovation after “Totally Fucked” that was completely unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was amazing how well the ASL was integrated into the show(as well as how the English and ASL were intertwined throughout), and I loved every single second I was in the Brooks Atkinson theater. The show is groundbreaking on so many levels and the best part of it, in my opinion, was how it brought to light so much within accessibility on Broadway and in NYC in general.

In California(where I live), it’s pretty common to find events with closed captioning and wheelchair accessible buildings wherever you go, due to our fairly large population of deaf and hard of hearing people(shoutout to the School for Independent Learners, which made me aware of all the different deaf events I could go to and people I could meet), as well as those who are physically disabled. In New York City, it’s a completely different story. Skyscrapers are rarely easily accessible. Broadway shows are almost never closed captioned or have interpreters, unless you can potentially go on a specific day that it can be available. I think Spring Awakening has truly opened a new door and reminded people that yes, we need to continue to make things accessible for everybody. We’ve come so, so far, but there’s still so much left to do.

All that said, I think the best part of Deaf West Spring Awakening was seeing how many people it’s inspired. It’s inspired me to keep up with my ASL skills and continue learning, as well as study deaf culture more. It’s inspired people to learn the language to begin with. It’s told people that they can be on Broadway and that they can follow their dreams no matter who they are, whether they are deaf/hard of hearing, in a wheelchair, or whatever they may think will hold them back. Like I said before, we’ve got a long way to go before the world is ‘perfect’, but the face of Broadway is changing fast and for the better, all thanks to Deaf West Spring Awakening.

-Kaytlin

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Spring Awakening and Accessibility on Broadway

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