By: Elena Dansdill, September 2, 2019
After 88 years of providing theatre and arts for the community, Wheaton Drama is taking a step to open their doors to another group. Gretchen Gannon is the first deaf actor to work on a show at Wheaton Drama, and she’s blowing past everyone’s expectations. After deciding to return to theatre after a hiatus of almost 10 years, Gretchen realized many of the deaf theatres she previously worked at had folded, and auditioned for Wheaton Drama for the first time, landing an ensemble role in The Addams Family – A New Musical, playing September 13th – October 6th at Wheaton Drama’s Playhouse 111.
“Without the gracious forward thinking of Wheaton Drama to make their theatre accessible to the Deaf Community, none of this would be possible,” Gretchen said in an interview, “For example, hiring Sign Language Interpreters for rehearsals and performances. The interpreter keeps me in the “Family” business at all times with whatever is going on at that moment.” Additionally, she says that technology like Facebook, which wasn’t around when she began doing theatre, has helped her by giving her a way to watch rehearsal videos over to nail down each step.
Gretchen’s interpreter, Patti Shore Kaden, is just as excited to be working on this show, stating that it’s an honor for both of them to be working for a theatre that’s never been accessible before. “Gretchen brings depth and creativity to this theatre,” said Patti, who’s worked for 30 years as an interpreter. “People who come to the show will see this and be part of the magic.” Gretchen certainly does have a bit of magic that every actor needs. At rehearsal, Gretchen is the one high fiving and laughing with all the cast members, bringing out the best in them all. She says people have always seen her as an entertainer, making them smile and relax, and that’s what draws her to theatre.
Besides casting their first deaf actor, Wheaton Drama is also offering an interpreter at four different performances of The Addams Family for deaf and hard of hearing audiences. This is a huge step towards making Wheaton Drama more accessible, and one that needs to happen more often in community theatres, according to Gretchen. In some productions that perhaps offer one interpreted performance, Gretchen points out that only offering one show with an interpreter just doesn’t work and “lessens the opportunity for all people to see the show. The more options, the better,” she says.
“The opportunity to make the show accessible was made possible in part by Gretchen’s talent and tenacity, the leadership of the production team for Addams Family, headed by director Dan Hitzemann, and by generous donations,” says Wheaton Drama president, Julie Kanturek. “Honestly, we didn’t set out to create a show inclusive for more audiences, but Gretchen blew the socks off our production team; they knew we had to have her, and we knew we needed to figure out how to make it happen.” Creating a show with inclusivity involves hiring an interpreter for the rehearsals, and two interpreters for each performance to bring the show to life through sign language, costs the theatre hadn’t originally considered when budgeting the show. “Thankfully, before we’d even decided as a board to hire interpreters for four performances, we had the commitment of an anonymous donor to help make it happen. Since then, we reached out to Representative Terra Costa Howard, who has also generously agreed to help. The support of our community, both inside and outside our theater, is what is really special about this production. And it means Wheaton Drama is becoming even more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community —and to anyone who loves theatre.”
The Addams Family – A New Musical opens at Wheaton Drama on Friday the 13th of September through October 6th, with performances on Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Four performances of The Addams Family will be ASL (American Sign Language) interpreted for the deaf and hard of hearing: Saturday 9/14 at 2 pm, Sunday 9/22 at 3 pm, Sunday 9/29 at 3 pm, and Saturday 10/5 at 7:30 pm. For tickets and more information, visit www.wheatondrama.org.