Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Keller Auditorium, SW 3rd and Clay, 790-ARTS, May 24-28 @ 7:30 pm, May 28 @ 2 pm, May 29 @ 1 & 6:30 pm, $24-66

The audacity of turning Mark Twain's classic into a cheesy Broadway musical notwithstanding, this touring production of Big River has one extremely fascinating thing going for it: It's created and performed by deaf people. How a cast performs an entire musical without being able to hear a single note is exactly what I was wondering when I spoke through an interpreter with deaf actress and co-creator of this version of Big River, Linda Bove. (You may also know her from her recurring role as "Linda" on Sesame Street.)

So how do deaf actors perform this musical?

We really set up a lot of cues; either visual cues from the conductor, or cues through a TV monitor. We also have physical cues from other actors--an actor will perhaps move an elbow to touch someone or give a specific head nod. But they are all very discreet.

How is music communicated through sign language?

When you have someone speaking and they're in a dialogue, there's a shift when they go into a song--it's very similar with sign language. When we were preparing the music, we looked at what happens in the music and how to represent that visually, and tried to capture that style so that the deaf audience can SEE that. We successfully achieved that, and deaf audience members have found themselves dancing in their seats to the beat just like the hearing audience does.

Has this Big River production enjoyed its astounding success because it connects with both hearing and deaf audiences?

Yes. In Big River we have a story about a deaf man and a hearing African American man who take a long tour on a raft down the river. So there are two different cultures onboard that raft, and there is a connection and a bond that exists and the audience can feel that. That's why it just took off--it was beyond the issue of deaf and hearing; it was the story of two people's experiences together on this journey.

Support The Portland Mercury

Sponsored
SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30