Kent-Trumbull ‘Christmas Carol’ is deaf/hearing collaboration

A familiar story gets a radical reworking for the holidays at Kent State University at Trumbull Theater.

There’s an Ebenezer Scrooge and Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. But the action takes place in 21st century Ohio, not the early 1800s England. Scrooge’s loyal employee Bob Cratchit now is Barb Crachler; Tiny Timmie is her wheelchair-bound daughter; and while Scrooge’s late business partner still is named Marley, his first name isn’t Jacob, it’s Bob.

“I couldn’t resist,” director Carol Robinson said.

And those aren’t the biggest changes to Charles Dickens’ story. Kent-Trumbull’s “Another Christmas Carol” is a joint deaf / hearing production. The actors on stage will deliver their lines in American sign language, while voice actors at the side of the stage will deliver the dialogue verbally.

This isn’t the first time Kent-Trumbull Theater has staged a deaf / hearing production, most recently “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 2013. Robinson, an associate professor of English, was involved in those past efforts, and she proposed a small holiday show with a few deaf and hearing people.

“I met with people over the summer, and we decided to do a great big show,” she said.

Robinson did the “grunt work” on the script, she said, but the end result is the collaborative effort of the whole cast. She’s also collaborated with Farah Leland and Lauren Albaugh in directing the show.

The signing actors are Kurt Cullison, Beth Myers, Lauren Albaugh, Justin McCune, Christine Fowler, Mark Myers, Pam Beish, Valerie Dalyrmple, Aidan Scott, Joao Ciuba, Ammauri Peters, Jack Ford, Madison Ford, Pam Beish, Ethan Ramsey, Tiffany Mulloy, Rachel Fowler, Jaden Leland and Kisha Leland.

The speakers are Andrew Budny, Rebecca Hardman, Valerie Dalyrmple, Shane Glaeser, Tiffany Mulloy, Christine Fowler, Ethan Ramsey, Heather Sutherin and Aidan Scott.

The actors on stage and the actors who provide their voices have to work together to create the characters. Some of the voice actors know sign language; others are voicing the characters in the same way an actor provides the voice for a cartoon.

“Everyone is learning at least a little sign language,” Robinson said.

Eric Kildow, head of the theater department at Kent-Trumbull, said the production is good learning experience for the school’s theater students.

“It’s giving the students an opportunity to work in different modalities, to work with people who don’t necessarily speak English or English isn’t their first language. They have to learn how to navigate that. Primarily the language of this production is American sign language and they’ve had to work with that.”

Robinson and the cast incorporate elements of deaf culture into the production. It includes four “gesture songs,” which are inspired by the combination of sign language and pantomime performed by sign mimes at deaf clubs.

That was want of several goals she had going into the project.

“I wanted to make sure there were plenty of deaf people involved and they felt comfortable to participate,” she said. “This really is a community theater experience with the emphasis on community. For several of them, this is their first show and others are old pros at it.

“Also theater tends to be male-dominated. There’s a tendency toward male directors and male-centric plays. I’m trying to affect that in the spirit of diversity.”

In addition to changing the genders of Cratchit and his son, Scrooge’s nephew now is his niece, and she has a same-sex spouse.

“It takes on more contemporary issues, the things that are bothering all of us — health insurance, minimum wage, salaries, getting by in current America, economic issues.”