In the show’s tour off-Broadway, the Tulsa “Hamilton” performances featured an ASL translator.
By now, if you asked the average individual what immediately comes to mind upon hearing the name “Alexander Hamilton,” most would probably think of Broadway rather than American currency. For this, we have Lin Manuel-Miranda to thank. The musical first showed in New York City back in 2015, and has garnered attention and fans every day since. The musical recently closed out the 2018-19 season at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
Part of what has made “Hamilton” such a rousing success is its emphasis on the inherent diversity that makes up our country. This is as important a message in 2019 as it has ever been before. While the ethnically and racially diverse casting of historically known white individuals has been a consistent feature of performances, the last show in Tulsa also featured three interpreters who translated the entire musical into American Sign Language. Not only did this add another extremely visually stimulating element to the show, but much more importantly, it provided accessibility for an entire community to be able to enjoy this pop culture phenomena.
The entire premise of signing rap songs intrigued me, but the true production of the interpreting exceeded my wildest expectations. Given that “Hamilton” runs at just under three hours and interpreting normally paced speaking is difficult enough a task, it made sense that there would be multiple signers.
The three interpreters really mimicked what the cast of the show was doing in their signing; when a song would start out being sung by one individual and then the chorus would join in, there would be one interpreter to start and then the other two would emerge from the shadows to form the ensemble. These group numbers and rap battles were juxtaposed nicely with more traditional Broadway ballads, and the emotion that Eliza Hamilton expressed was matched, if not outdone by that of the interpreter.
Rather than a traditional curtain call where lead actors step out one by one to accept audience applause, Hamilton carries out its inclusivity and nonconformity until the very end, opting for one big group bow and a nod to the orchestra and the interpreters. It was really telling seeing so many fellow students, professors and even administrators at the show, especially in a time where our campus is in so much turmoil. With TU’s theater and deaf education programs being cut, it struck me as serendipitous, that this unique production would grace the Tulsa community at the time that it did.