Gestural Economies and Production Pedagogies in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening

Sarah Wilbur
  • TDR/The Drama Review, June 2016, The MIT Press
  • DOI: 10.1162/dram_a_00553

What is it about?

This essay thinks through how gesture, small symbolic, and functional embodiments shape meaning, choreographic organization, and production practices in Deaf West's 2015-2016 Broadway production of SPRING AWAKENING at the Brooks Atkinson Theater in New York City.

Why is it important?

Deaf West's important integration of ASL signing and staged movement has been considered in academic and popular theatre and performance discourse, but the company's production strategies--in particular, its commitment to staging musical theatre with hearing and nonhearing casts and for hearing and nonhearing audiences, has received minimal attention from arts advocates and critics. I write about infrastructure from a dance scholarly purview, which places political weight with embodied gestures as an analytical anchor capable of exposing how the many people responsible for staging live performance works cooperatively restructure working environments to invite broader belonging, in this case, within mainstream theatrical production.


Sarah Wilbur
Brown University

I am Sarah Wilbur. I am a choreographer, performer, educator, and dance and performance researcher who writes about infrastructure and the arts in U.S. culture. I am also a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies in the Theatre Arts and Performance Department at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island for the 2016-2017 academic year. I earned my M.F.A degree in dance and my Ph.D. degree in culture and performance studies at UCLA. As a dance researcher, practitioner, and advocate, I believe wholeheartedly in dance as a fantastic research problem and cultural practice, rooted in the body's capacity to produce a politics. I am currently working on a book manuscript that offers a critical history of institution-building in dance taking as its case study the fifty year lifespan of the Dance Program at the US National Endowment for the Arts. More about me: https:

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