Note: Because I refer to this blog post in present day (2015), I would like to clarify that the Austin that I mention in this post is a different person from the Austin McKenize that currently plays the lead in Spring Awakening on Broadway.
I admit it: I wanted to say ‘no’ at first. Two weeks of an experimental workshop in Los Angeles for a musical in sign language sounded ridiculously awesome in theory, but did I actually want to spend that amount of time at my grandpa’s house, looking for a place with WiFi to work at during day and exhausting myself at rehearsal with a bunch of people I didn’t even know at night? Honestly, not really. I just wanted to be able to live the new life I’ve been settling into after traveling so much in the past month. I just wanted to be home.
But, I just couldn’t say no either. If there was ever an opportunity screaming all the right signs to my face, this was it. I could stay at my grandpa’s place in LA. I could work from home. It was a love of mine: music in my own language, for Universe’s sake! So, ‘yes’, I said. Yes.
Let me tell you, life really is a hell lot more fun when you say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’.
I also said ‘yes’ to my friend, Nick, who had gotten the position of assistant stage manager for Spring Awakening and asked if he could stay with me for these two weeks. It could have been a very bad idea. What if we got on each other’s nerves the first day? Two weeks is a long time. But whatever. Yes. Sure. Why the fuck not?
There were fourteen of us actors. There was Austin. Max. Kayla.Stella. Daniel. Candy. Karla. Joey. Dickie. Melissa. Natalie. Ben. Eddie. Ruby. Blake. Half of us Deaf; the other half hearing. Our co-directors (and a couple in real life, aw) Andy and Michael. Jared, our pianist. Anthony and Shoshannah, our ASL Masters. Elizabeth, ASL Master/interpreter. Spencer, our beloved choreographer who also choreographs for “So You Think You Can Dance?” Pat, our stage manager. And of course, there was Nick, assistant stage manager. Sometimes there was DJ, Director of Deaf West Theater. Collectively, we made for one interesting group of performers.
“I am having trouble finding the words to express what an impact this experience has had on me. I am blown away that after only two weeks of work we were able to bring a completely new heart to this special show,” Kayla wrote in her e-mail to everyone. She has performed in Spring Awakening over three hundred times. She and her parents came all the way from New York. Despite watching the show countless times, her parents were in tears during our brief showcase. They weren’t the only ones; several other people in our tiny audience were so emotional that they cried. Joey was practically sobbing by the time we sang/signed our last And all shall know the wonders of the purple summer…
I felt the same. After years of signing songs to the mirror and to my friends, to be able to perform in front of a real audience with a wonderful cast was nothing short of amazing. But really, it wasn’t just the showcase. It was all of it. Committing to three, and then four, hours of rehearsal every night. Getting to know new people who are also artists in their own form. I was dancing and singing and signing (it’s not ironic how closely these two words resemble each other, considering how well they go together) with other people every night. I would even catch Nick singing his heart out, soundlessly, in the bathroom and in the car all the time. There are few things in the world that I love more than incorporating sign language to music.
But it wasn’t even just that. It was those late night munchies with the gang at Crave Cafe. It was every time one of us gave a new name sign to somebody in the hearing cast. It was doing the DreamGirls dance with Candy practically every thirty minutes. It was our ridiculous warm-up routine that was impossible to memorize. It was the night Nick, Dickie, and I hit up WeHo. It was Austin, Max, and me at my grandpa’s pool, doing yoga breathing exercises that spontaneously led to Max practicing reiki on Austin and I and then us having a dance party out on the grass, which ended with Max up in a tree. Yeah, that was kind of a trippy afternoon.
In a strange way, it kind of felt like going to grown-up summer camp, except I actually liked everyone. Oh, for the record, Nick and I got along fabulously.
Looking back, I can’t believe I even considered passing up on this experience, simply because I felt like curling up inside my comfort zone. But I know I’ll forget again. Trying something new doesn’t necessarily get easier with experience; it will require precious energy to get yourself to step outside of your comfort zone each and every time.
But then again, that’s where magic happens. And life should be magical.