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Special SPRING AWAKENING Debut of the Month Series: Daniel David Stewart

Special SPRING AWAKENING Debut of the Month Series: Daniel David StewartDeaf West Theater's production of Spring Awakening is currently in previews at Broadway's Brook Atkinson Theater, with opening night set for Sunday, September 27. As BWW recently reported, an extra two weeks of performances have been added to the limited engagement, extending the show's run through Sunday, January 24th.

Deaf West's innovative new production takes this already revolutionary musical to electrifying new heights by choreographing sign language into the production, intensifying the rift between the lost and longing teenagers and the adults who refuse to hear them. The production is directed by Michael Arden and features music by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics by Steven Sater and choreography by Spencer Liff.

Throughout September, BWW's Debut of the Month column will feature five of the talented actors who are making their Broadway debuts in this exciting new production.

Click here to read special feature with Joshua Castille

Click here to read special feature with Treshelle Edmond

Next up, Daniel David Stewart, who takes on the speaking voice of sweet and naive student, Ernst, played by deaf actor Joshua Castille.

How did you become involved with the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening?

I did it the old fashioned way and auditioned. I was a huge fan of their work and knew I wanted to work with them at Special SPRING AWAKENING Debut of the Month Series: Daniel David Stewartsome point. When they announced Spring Awakening, I called everyone I could to get into that door. Little did I know what role I would end up having or how I would be playing around on a Broadway stage a little over a year later.

What have been some of the specific challenges you have faced with the production?

Obviously the communication barrier was something we all faced. But for me it wasn't just the language of English and ASL but the language of music. I've never taken a piano lesson in my life and had no idea heading in that I was going to be playing all the piano for the show. Suddenly you're thrust into this new language and it's sink or swim. Luckily we have a way as humans to surprise ourselves in the wildest of circumstances.

In what ways does adding American Sign Language to the show intensify the conflicts at the heart of the story and deepen the theatrical experience?

I felt from the moment they announced the casting call that this would be a special show. Having been both a fan of the theatre company and the show for years, I knew that they were meant to be together. There's something so intrinsically beautiful about the language itself, that it really gave Spencer Liff and Michael [Arden] a treasure trove to work with. But beyond that, to take a show about not being heard, and put it in the extremely capable hands of a group that never gets their chance to be heard. I mean, you can't get a more cathartic and fitting experience than that. It's been a wonder to behold from day one.

In what ways do you use your instrument as an additional means of communication?

Because music is not at the forefront of my set of skills, I had to be clever from day one. My initial thought as an actor is, "How can I attack the emotion through the music? How can I act without talking or miming, and have the audience feel the intended emotion through the music?" Duncan Sheik has written one of the most beautiful scores in the history of the American theatre and a lot of that is because of the emotional vitality of the music. You can hear a refrain and know what the intended emotion of the song is. I was able to latch onto that as a blueprint and thrust myself into the raw emotion of the music. It informed my playing. It informed my acting. It informed everything I bring on that stage.

Special SPRING AWAKENING Debut of the Month Series: Daniel David StewartCan you talk about the process of developing a relationship with Joshua and how you became in sync with each other?

From day one Joshua and I had a connection. He was my eyes to a whole new culture and world I truly knew nothing about. I'm honored to have him as a partner. From day one I wanted us to feel like there wasn't a separation between us. That we could truly explore and connect authentically with the material as one being and character. We wanted to have a hive mind of sorts. A way to communicate through the slightest movement. We hit the ground running and never stopped. We've always been so forthright and honest with each other about our emotions and thoughts and it's really helped us stay on the same page. If something starts to shift within our performances we examine it and try to explore new layers to peruse. I couldn't ask for a better half.

When you are speaking, are you focused more on the actor you are speaking for or on the person the character is speaking with?

For me it's a balance. I think I'll always be more focused on conveying Josh's choices but a lot of that is based on what the other actor is giving. I'd say I spend about 70/30. That gap used to be even bigger. But as Josh and I grew, so did our connection. I need to be looking at him because that's where the focus of the scene is as well. If I wasn't, the audience would be quite confused where to look. There's two bodies - but only one vessel for the character.

Have there been many changes made for the Broadway run of the show?

Surprisingly little in my opinion. In some ways it's still that beautiful little ragtag show that we did for 99 people every night on Skid Row in Los Angeles. The heart is still there. The passion. It's only heightened by the beautiful new instruments at the technical team's disposal. I think the beauty on the surface now matches the heart within. Which is just marvelous to witness from where we began. You know...with kids climbing on old ladders we found lying around, and one piece of blank wall to project on. But even our Craigslist piano made it all the way to The Great White Way.

What has it been like to make your Broadway debut in Spring Awakening?

It's been nothing short of incredible. At the same time it's been extremely difficult. I had a vocal injury and have Special SPRING AWAKENING Debut of the Month Series: Daniel David Stewartbeen having to sit out of the show for the last week and a half. I'm trying to make it back by opening. But it's been an absolutely humbling experience to not be able to talk to anyone and experience what that loneliness can be like. It's been incredible to now have a language to communicate with, in ASL. Some of the deaf cast is having to interpret for me when I talk to the hearing cast, which is a weird turn around and kind of a beautiful, full circle from where I was a year ago. Struggling to communicate with the deaf. Now I struggle to communicate with the hearing. I just want to get back to working with this beautiful family on a nightly basis. Until then I get to listen and experience what it's like being misunderstood, while working on a show about being misunderstood.

About Daniel David Stewart: Stewart's regional credits include Master Harold...and the Boys (Indy Award), Our Town Little Miss Scrooge, The Burnt Part Boys, and The Lion in Winter. His Film and TV credits include Kids Vs. Monsters, The Sound Of Magic, Goodwin Games and The Middle. Daniel is an avid writer and professional oddball as well as a graduate of Second City. https://twitter.com/daniestew

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