This will be a production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" like you've never seen before.
Nicki Runge, who is deaf, found going to the theater a frustrating experience.She compares it to a hearing person watching a foreign film using a device with subtitles.
"While the movie is on the screen, you have to look down at the device to know what they're saying," says the founder of the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Deaf Theatre, "but you want to watch the action, so you look up and then you miss what they're saying."
That annoyance spurred her to produce a show that would be accessible to both deaf and hearing audiences, she says. This version of "Cuckoo's Nest," written by Dale Wasserman and based on Ken Kesey's classic 1962 book, is that show. It opened in Aurora last month and will travel to the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind Friday through Sunday.
The show will include both deaf and hearing actors and pair American Sign Language interpreters on stage with each actor, ensuring the deaf audience won't have to look away to understand what's being said.
"It gives your eyes a rest," Runge says. "You enjoy watching when they're both involved on one stage."
Wasserman's play seemed like the ideal vehicle to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds, Runge says. She saw the film in college, and thought the way the patients in the mental ward were treated was reflective of some of her experiences as a person who is deaf.
The script is slightly altered: She and co-director Pat Payne decided the nurses could hear and speak, and the patients were deaf. Protagonist Randle P. McMurphy became a CODA - a child of deaf adults. He can hear, but also knows sign language, and talks for most of the play.
"The challenge," says Payne, "was making it as inclusive as possible for both audiences."
Denver actor Patrick Collins plays the iconic McMurphy, a role brought vividly to life by Jack Nicholson in the 1975 film.
When rehearsals started four months ago, Collins had a steep learning curve ahead of him. He had no knowledge of the deaf culture, and didn't know a single sign. Not only did he have to learn his lines, but he had to learn the line's equivalent in sign language. And sometimes, those two languages didn't match up.
"It hurts the brain," Collins says. "That, to me, has been the biggest challenge: How do I speak two languages at the same time? I know what I'm supposed to say, but it's calming the brain so the muscle memory can come through. The artistic staff jokes that I should go and become an interpreter."
Runge has polled recent audiences about the show.
"A deaf person, who is an American Sign Language teacher, said 'this is amazing,'" she says. "We want to teach more people sign language. That was inspirational. Other deaf people said it would be good education for hearing people."
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
Who: Rocky Mountain Deaf Theatre
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18-19, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20
Where: Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, 33 N. Institute St.
Tickets: $20 in advance, $30 at the door; 1-970-373-5266, firstname.lastname@example.org, rmdeaf theatre.com
Contact Jennifer Mulson at 636-0270.