Michael Arden is an actor, singer, director and composer. He was gracious enough to do a phone interview with me about how he got started in theater and his involvement with Deaf West Theatre. He is currently the director for SPRING AWAKENING which opens September 13th in Los Angeles.
The Playbill Collector (TPC): How did you get your start in theater?
Michael Arden (MA): When I was young, I forced my grandparents to let me build sets in their garage. For college, I attended Juilliard for drama. My sophomore year of college I started working at Williamstown Theatre Festival and at 20 years old, I was in my first Broadway show, BIG RIVER produced by Deaf West. Little did I know that 10+ years later that I would still be involved with Deaf West. It’s crazy how life leads you in different directions.
TPC: How did you get involved with Deaf West’s production of SPRING AWAKENING?
MA: I started a site specific theater company in Los Angeles, called THE FOREST OF ARDEN. Deaf West’s Artistic Director, DJ KURS asked me if I would consider directing a show for them. My partner and I (Andy Mientus) came up with the idea of SPRING AWAKENING. I had been a longtime fan of the musical and he had appeared in the first national tour. It seemed like a perfect fit for Deaf West, given that it is ultimately a musical about people who are denied a voice. We did a two week workshop around a year ago and now we are doing the production.
MA: There are 25 actors. Half of the cast is deaf and they perform in sign language. The rest of the cast acts, signs and sings. Each member of the band provides a voice for the deaf members. The band is onstage and is part of the company. It is great to blend in this seamless ballet of language.
TPC: What theater is the show taking place in?
MA: The show will be at a very cool art space called Rosenthal Theater at Inner-City Arts. It’s a 99 seat house.
TPC: Can you tell us about the set?
MA: I don’t want to give that away! Let’s just say, we are really using the interesting and beautiful architecture. My theater company focuses on site specific theater so I wanted to stay true to our mission as best I could. The space is essentially a character of it’s own.
TPC: When people leave the show, what do you want them to walk out thinking?
MA: That’s a twofold question. First, I’d like people to have a bit more knowledge about deaf culture and ASL as a language. Specifically, how art and theater can break barriers. Working with both deaf and hearing people makes the show in a sense, bilingual. It forces us to come together. The second part is, SPRING AWAKENING is an incredible story that depicts how tough things can be when there’s a breakdown in communication with people we love. Much of that is the struggle between parents and children in terms of sexuality, community and beliefs.
For more information on Deaf West Theatre, please check out: http://www.deafwest.org/