treshelle edmond,

Deaf Actress Treshelle Edmond reprises her role as “
Martha” in Deaf West production of Spring Awakening at The Wallis Theatre in Beverly Hills, through June 7.

*Let’s face it, there are not many actors, not to mention those who may be just starting out, who can say they actually shared the stage with superstar, John Legend.

But Treshelle Edmond can.

The deaf actress was chosen to perform “America the Beautiful” in American Sign Language, simultaneously during Legend’s performance, at Super Bowl XLIX. She has also appeared on two highly acclaimed television shows: “Glee” and “House M.D.”

And now, Edmond reprises her role as “Martha” in the Deaf West Theatre production of the Tony Award-winning best musical, “Spring Awakening,” at The Wallis in Beverly Hills.

Not too shabby, huh?

A San Bernardino native, Edmond is an actress who strongly believes in women’s empowerment, self-love, and the act of helping others; which is probably why she has spent nearly four years studying Childhood & Adolescent Behavior; and is now in her senior year at Cal State Northridge University.

We don’t hear much about deaf actors period–not to mention a deaf actress who is African American.

For many, Academy award-winning actress Marlee Matlin may be the only deaf actress we even recall hearing of. And aside from her last appearance in a brave run on Dancing With The Stars in 2008, even she seems to have become an obscure memory.

So it was cool when EURThisNthat editor, DeBorah B. Pryor, got the opportunity to interview Treshelle Edmond; in the wake of her reprisal of “Martha” in “Spring Awakening.”

The play…

Based on Frank Wedekind‘s controversial 1891 expressionist work, and recommended for mature audiences, “Spring Awakening” is performed simultaneously in American Sign Language and spoken English by a cast of 27 actors. It follows the lives of a group of teenagers as they navigate their journey from adolescence to adulthood.

Edmond is the only African American in the play.

Though it’s an excellent production, it’s a bit too long, and I felt there were way too many things going on. What with story lines around virginity, suicide, sexual abuse, the need to be perfect, “the talk” and teacher-student expectations, it was impossible for the audience to grasp and hold on to anything solid. It kind of reminds you of a new playwright who tries to fit every thought into that first script; instead of focusing on giving depth to one or two specific areas.

Kudos to outstanding artists…

But its an energetic, young cast, with a beautiful musical score by Duncan Sheik (who actually penned a song called Totally Fucked and made it sound authentic!), awesome direction (really nice use of the stage) by Michael Arden and nice choreography by Spencer Liff.

And on this night, with celebrities such as actress Camryn Manheim and Paris Jackson, teen daughter of Michael Jackson, in the audience, outstanding performance kudos must be given to Katie Boeck, who has the voice of an angel.

Boeck’s voice opened the play. And she plays guitar and serves as the speaking voice of the character, Wendla (played beautifully by deaf actress, Sandra Mae Frank).

Also of note is Austin McKenzie (Wendla’s love interest), in his first professional appearance, in the role of Melchior.

Treshelle Edmond, Lauren Patten, Ali Stroker in a scene from Spring Awakening. --Photo credit:

Treshelle Edmond, Lauren Patten, Ali Stroker in a scene from Spring Awakening. –Photo credit: Tate Tullier

Interview with Treshelle Edmond…

In the role of Martha, Treshelle Edmond, who has been working professionally for five years, is very expressive. Perhaps even more so than one might expect from a deaf, non-speaking actress. Edmond has developed an important skill for any actress, but even greater for someone with her limitations: the skill to use her body in a way that translates her feelings of frustration, compassion, and empathy, clearly.

And in one moving scene, where a secret she has been hiding from her schoolmates is revealed, this is especially evident.

In our interview, I wondered how the audition process differs for a deaf actress; how Treshelle went about developing her role of Martha, the additional challenges a deaf actress faces in the business and more.

See excerpts from our interview (done via email) below.

treshelle edmond pink blouse

 DBP: I always like to ask actors about their “Audition Process.” Is auditioning as a deaf actor any different than it is for a hearing actor, and how? 

TE: Coming into the Deaf West audition room, I was able to be just to me. I didn’t have  to worry about speaking, as is the norm when I audition for other roles. In my audition for this production, I got to communicate in ASL and to execute the full vision I have for my audition. Communication is so important in the audition room, and I don’t always receive full access.

DBP: Tell me about “Martha” …and how you developed her as a character? Is she tough, meek, inquisitive, studious? What is her personality like, and how does it differ from Treshelle?

TE: Martha and I are similar in that we both have strength. But in all other ways, she is completely different than Treshelle. 

She is very brave but also shy and reserved. On the other hand I’m a butterfly and I’m all over the place. Martha is observant and cautious: she cannot get in trouble. She is what defines the word beauty. She cannot afford to break her own facade of perfection.

I was able to develop the character by studying the lyrics and the dialogue. My understanding of her pain came through repetition of the lines.

DBP: Having previously worked as an actor for nearly 20 years myself, I know the challenges. What additional challenges do you face being a deaf actor?

TE: There are practical challenges. For instance, in this show I depend on the other actors so I hit my mark on the songs. 

And sign language is very different than English. You have to translate the English on the script into its sign language equivalent. ASL is a whole language, and it’s a tool for me as an actress. Through sign language I have learned how to expand language into human interaction, emotion, and empathy.

DBP: Who are some of your acting role models and why?

TE: Will Smith. He’s so dedicated in the way that he gets into the role. I like how he brings his characters to life.

 

REMAINING PERFORMANCES FOR “SPRING AWAKENING” ARE AS FOLLOWS:

 “Spring Awakening” runs through Sunday, June 7, in the Bram Goldsmith Theater at The Wallis, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA. 90210. Performance schedule is Tues through Fri eves at 8pm; Sat at 3pm and 8pm; and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Open-Captioned performance takes place on Saturday, June 6 at 3pm. “Talk-Back” with the cast takes place on Tuesday, June 2, following the 8pm performance

Ticket prices are $29 – $99 and can be purchased in person at The Wallis Ticket Services, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. By phone (310) 746-4000 or online by visiting www.thewallis.org