The feeling that Washington was fertile territory, in terms of sophisticated theatergoers and willing actors, convinced him to plant theatrical stakes here. With few American models for commedia companies to work from, Wilson improvised. “They’ve got smart audience and actors and artists who want to commit to each other,” he says. “I just decided this is a great place to be.”
Since its first season in 2009, the company, performing at the Capital Fringe Festival and in spaces such as CulturalDC’s Flashpoint in Penn Quarter, has been alternating classic commedia pieces with adaptations of well-known Shakespeare plays: last year, its inspired commedia version of “Romeo and Juliet” proved an imaginative refreshment that has since become a touring production, to schools and other venues.
The residency at Gallaudet has not only taken off the table the perennial worry for young troupes in the city of where to do the work. It has also added a dimension to Faction’s mission. Thus far, 22 roles in five Faction of Fools productions have gone to students in Gallaudet’s theater arts program, whose three faculty members couldbe stretched only so far. “So I feel Faction kind of fills the void that three faculty members can’t,” Sinnott, who has a master’s in set design from Boston University, signs, as Snyder interprets.
Sinnott designed the set for Faction’s latest production; Gallaudet’s Web site, in fact, quotes Sinnott as saying that as a child, the first show he ever saw with signing deaf actors was “A Christmas Carol.” The impetus for bringing in a company with no history with deafness was to give students an exposure to the conditions of the theater marketplace once they leave the sheltered confines of a college for the deaf.
“What I’m trying to get them to experience is what life is like after Gallaudet,” he says, adding that while his goal is for students to feel confident and prepared, “at the same time, I want to take away the safety net.”
The learning curve curlicues for both the hearing and deaf participants. Sinnott says, for example, that he’s frustrated by the practice of turning off the lights in the theater during the technical rehearsals: he’s left out of any ensuing conversation in the dark. “Sometimes it’s easy not to remember there’s someone else in the room,” he says. Wilson, too, acknowledges that there must be rigorous attention to keeping everyone on the same level of awareness at all times.
“We work very hard to have a mentoring situation that is caring but also holds the students to a professional standard,” Wilson says.
At a recent late-morning rehearsal, Wilson works out a few bits with Reisman, whose Scrooge naturally conforms to the Pantalone character in commedia — traditionally the avaricious butt of the joke. It seems in this regard that Ebeneezer has been always waiting for his entrance in a mask.
“The part of the novel that speaks to me is the moment after Marley leaves, and Scrooge looks out of the window and the street is filled with phantoms, all these supernatural travelers he didn’t know were there,” Wilson says. “This is the story of a man whose eyes were open to his fellow travelers.” How apt for a production in which hearing and deaf actors become fellow travelers, too.
A Commedia Christmas Carol
Thursday to Dec. 23 at Gallaudet University’s Elstad Auditorium, 800 Florida Ave. NE. Parking is free and performances on the evenings of Nov. 29 and Dec. 14 and the matinee on Dec. 16 are ASL-interpreted. Call 800-838-3006 or visit