“The Taste of Sunrise” has been sold out since opening night with people waiting in standby lines outside of Margetts Theatre hoping to make it into the performance. The remaining shows will run until Mar. 26 with 13 performances total.
The contemporary drama written by Suzan L. Zeder uniquely combines English and American Sign Language into an emotional journey of a young deaf boy named Tuc. Actors try to cater to both hearing and deaf audiences in a uniting and culturally expressive way.
Play director Julia Ashworth does not know ASL but said she was thrilled to direct the production.
“The foreword of the script says, ‘If you choose to do this play, it will not be because it is easy in any way,'” Ashworth said. “I read that a few years ago and thought, ‘Bring it on! I love a challenge!’ And I have truly loved it — it’s been an honor.”
The script does not come with ASL translation, which proved to be a challenge for the cast. Fluent signers recorded two and a half hours of signing to help other cast members learn their lines.
Pre-theatre arts education major Abbie Craig said her largest obstacle was trying to convince the audience that she was a native speaker in ASL after just one semester of studying the language.
“My character is a CODA, a child of a deaf adult, and so I had to work really hard to appear fluent,” Craig said. “I was just in ASL 101 last semester, so that was a very interesting and difficult challenge for me.”
Ben Featherstone, a junior majoring in psychology, plays the main character Tuc. Featherstone, who is deaf, said that one obstacle he sometimes faced was tuning in to his role in each play practice.
“I just didn’t know how I was going to focus each night,” Featherstone said. “I would go into a corner before rehearsals and just pray my heart out and ask, ‘Please help me be Tuc.’ After my prayer I would walk out and feel fine.”
Featherstone said the greatest thing he has learned from this play is simply to have hope.
“Everything will work out in the end,” Featherstone said. “It doesn’t matter how dark things may seem; just keep going and things will work out. It will be okay.”
He said he tries to carry this contagious attitude of hope and positivity wherever he goes and recognized that he has a special knack for helping others.
“The best thing about being deaf is that I can empathize with other people,” Featherstone said. “I have experiences that enable me to relate to more people than usual. Being deaf — I love it! I can help so many more people than I would have been able to without this.”
ASL translator and teacher out of Salt Lake City Sarah Leathers said deaf people have a rich culture and history.
“I work with deaf people and it’s all about communicating,” Leathers said. “Communication is so important in society and it impacts all of us on such a huge level.”
Jake Earnest, a recently graduated master’s student, said that he learned a great deal about the importance of connection between people through participating in this play.
“This whole thing has taught me that you can create Zion between people even if you can’t communicate in the same way,” Earnest said. “Creating Zion is not about being able to speak the same language as far as English and ASL goes; it’s about really connecting with one another.”
Katie Jarvis, a grad student studying theatre critical studies, said that through her character she learned that people can learn to love again.
“No matter how badly it turns out or how horrifically you are scarred, you can love again,” Jarvis said. “Your heart is incredibly resilient and it can grow back.”
Stage manager Heather Richardson said she has gained more insight from “The Taste of Sunrise” than she ever thought she would.
“This story is about a deaf boy, but everyone can relate in some way to his experiences,” Richardson said. “I think people will be surprised by how much they can take away from this play.”
Tickets for this performance can be purchased online or at the Harris Fine Arts Center.