Sign Language and Wireless Headphone Technology Unite in Deaf West’s Production of Mamet’s American Buffalo
Together with Deaf West Theatre, California State University Los Angeles took an unusual approach to its co-production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” which wrapped in early March. A majority of the production was performed in American Sign Language (ASL), which meant the hearing audience needed a little assistance understanding the lines. Enter Sennheiser wireless headphones, which delivered spoken lines to each hearing audience member’s ears.
Unlike typical theater productions that cater to a mix of deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing audiences, this production did not include what’s known as “ghosting,” in which one actor speaks the lines, and one signs in ASL. Instead, director Stephen Rothman was adamant that only three characters take the stage in order to remain true to the structure of the play.
The lead role of “Teacher,” played by deaf actor Troy Kotsur, was performed entirely in ASL. The two other characters, Donny (Paul Raci) and Bobby (Matthew Ryan Pest) often signed and spoke at the same time, but there were scenes in which Donny only signed. To ensure the hearing audience could follow along, sound designer Martin Gimenez sought out the Sennheiser RS 120 II wireless headphone system.
“We had two voice actors up in a tech booth, so when the two signing actors were on stage silently conversing, the hearing audience could follow along thanks to the voice actors being piped directly into the headsets,” Gimenez says.
Actors Collin Bressie and James Foster voiced the characters of Teacher and Donny in a booth offstage.
For Gimenez, the decision to use Sennheiser technology a no-brainer: Gimenez incorporated Sennheiser wireless headphones into his stunning sound design for last year’s headphone opera “Invisible Cities,” hailed by The Hollywood Reporter as a “significant cultural event” and “a delicate and beautiful opera” by The Los Angeles Times.
“Thanks to my experiences with Invisible Cities, I knew that Sennheiser wireless headphones are one of the only turnkey solutions to the technical challenges presented in this production: creating a seamless aural environment between the actors on stage and the voice actors in a booth,” Gimenez says.
Seamless wireless technology was the key to the production’s success. “In American Buffalo, the application of Sennheiser wireless technology is more like infrastructure,” Gimenez says. “It’s a practical, elegant solution to an interesting structural challenge.”
The Sennheiser RS 120 II system delivers features a comfortable, open-air design with easy access to user controls such as volume, tuning and an on-off switch. The combination of audio quality, comfort and ease of use made the headphones the perfect choice for this unique production of “American Buffalo.”