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Sign language used in Emerson Stage play


Emma Stephenson '16 is a sign language actor in Mother Hicks, an Emerson Stage play that opens for student groups Thursday, February 26, and to the general public Friday, February 28. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Sign language is not something you typically see during a theatrical production.

But when the Emerson Stage play Mother Hicks is performed February 26–March 1, that’s exactly what the audience will notice.

“It feels great and it feels wonderful,” said Elbert Joseph, a deaf actor who is in the play. “People are in the audience watching somebody tell a story using their hands, face, and body language. It’s really inspirational.”



Elbert Joseph (right) is a deaf actor who performs in Mother Hicks. To his left is Jonathan Acorn '17. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

The student play is the first in Suzan Zeder’s Ware Trilogy. The second two plays will be performed by the Wheelock Family Theatre and Central Square Theater.

Set in the small town of Ware, Illinois, the trilogy follows a deaf man named Tuc (played by Joseph) as he searches for community, understanding, and a place to call home.

Sean Swords '15, stage manager of Mother Hicks, talks about incorporating sign language into the Emerson Stage play. (Video by Nick Eaton '17)

Three Performing Arts students, Olivia Moriarty ’14, Chelsea Glasner ’15, and Emma Stephenson ’16, are actors using American Sign Language in Mother Hicks. Moriarty and Glasner additionally studied in the Hearing and Deafness minor through Emerson’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Department.



Emma Stephenson '16, Emily Elmore '17, Simon Kiser '17, and Olivia Moriarty '14 perform at a Mother Hicks dress rehearsal this week. (Photo by Nick Eaton

The faculty member overseeing the play, Benny Ambush, senior distinguished producing director-in-residence, called Mother Hicks “an ambitious and very rewarding project.”

“The production is providing our students an opportunity to learn first-hand how to present an ASL-performed production,” Ambush said.

The director of Mother Hicks, Megan Sandberg-Zakian, said working on her first ASL-integrated production is highly rewarding.

“It’s a really exciting and unique opportunity to be exposed to this,” she said. “I think we take it for granted that anyone can come into a play and watch it and understand it, but of course that’s just not true.”

Mother Hicks will perform for several middle school groups on Thursday, February 26, and Friday, February 27, and will be open to the public for shows on Saturday, February 28, and Sunday, March 1.



Elbert Joseph, Emma Stephenson '16, and Emily Elmore '17. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Sandberg-Zakian hopes that young people will be most impacted and will learn how to conceptualize the idea of ASL. 

“You can explain deafness to a child as much as you want, but having them see a show like this adds a whole new level of conversation,” she said.

Joseph is ready to start this conversation with his audiences and is encouraging as many people as possible to come see the play.

“It’s so important. It’s huge. [Those at Emerson Stage are] so supportive and are great advocates for diversity and inclusion. It’s so great to see that,” he said. “This is such a colorful, beautiful play.”

Tickets for Mother Hicks are available at the Emerson College Box Offices.

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