When James Caverly was presented with an opportunity to direct a theatrical performance with a cast of hearing and deaf actors, the first thought he had was "finally."
Caverly had seen productions where the cast had that mix, but he noticed the directors could hear.
Caverly, who is deaf, was eager for the opportunity.
A graduate of Gallaudet University's theater program who lives in Laurel, he has directed shows in the past, but he has never directed a production in which deaf and hearing cast members are on the stage at the same time.
That will change when the Community College of Baltimore County's production of "Romeo and Juliet" premieres March 23.
Running through March 27 at the college's Catonsville campus, the production is organized by the college's theater and American Sign Language interpreter preparation programs. The show is part of the theater program's "A Year in Shakespeare" series.
The play, originally written by William Shakespeare in the 16th century, tells the tale of two lovers from families that are enemies of each other.
Rachel Grossman, ensemble director at Dog & Pony DC, a Washington, D.C.-based company that creates plays that keep hearing and deaf artists in mind, said productions such as the one at CCBC are not common.
She said it is "brilliant" that the CCBC production is taking place, as it broadens theater groups' horizons as to how to be inclusive to deaf or disabled artists.
"They're amazing artists and it's a tremendous amount of learning and new perspective when you're including storytelling from many different people and new perspectives," she said. "There's a real rich, broad and diverse deaf community in the D.C. metro area and a lot of talented artists."
The 15-member cast has four deaf actors, including two CCBC faculty members of the interpreter preparation program.
Caverly knew ahead of time which characters would be deaf and which would be hearing. Prior to auditions, he decided Romeo would be hearing with deaf parents, while Juliet would be deaf with hearing parents.
He said he was approached with the idea of having one deaf family and one hearing family.
"I thought to myself, 'This is quite boring and cliche,'so I decided to mix it up a little bit," he said through an interpreter. "With that mixing, I believe the dynamics are much more interesting."
The decision impressed Julie Lewis, the college's theater program coordinator. She thought "Romeo and Juliet" was a good fit for the hybrid cast, as it focuses on two families with different backgrounds.
"I love the way [Caverly] cast it," she said. "I think that challenges the whole idea, which I think is great."
With at least two interpreters — along with interns from the college's interpreter preparation program — at each production meeting and rehearsal, there has not been a communication barrier, Caverly said.
Ja'min Williams, a 21-year-old theater major from Catonsville, plays Romeo. When rehearsals for the show started Jan. 30, he said he knew the alphabet, how to count to 10 and the phrase "my name is" in American Sign Language. Now he's able to use the language to have simple conversations. In the performance, he uses American Sign Language to interact with his parents, who are deaf.
"I've always been excited to learn sign language but never sat back and took the time to do it," he said. "I've learned a lot."
Tabitha Markel, 32, a claims assistant for the U.S. Social Security Administration from Randallstown who is playing Juliet, thought taking part in the show would be a unique experience. She said she last acted in high school.
"I like [Caverly's] vision for the show, how he's integrating both deaf and hearing actors and taking both hearing and deaf cultural perspectives, which is different than we see from the norm," she said through an interpreter. "It will be interesting to see how the audience responds."
The show, which is performed in a mix of English and American Sign Language, will have captions projected at three spots above the stage.
Lewis said the college would consider doing another hybrid show in the future. The theater program is in the process of choosing shows for next year's season.
The college's Academic Theatre program is one of two institutions in Maryland — along with Towson University — accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre. CCBC is the only college in the state that offers a degree in interpreter preparation.
The "A Year in Shakespeare" series celebrates the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death and continues in April with "Love's Fire" at the college's Essex campus.
IF YOU GO
"Romeo and Juliet" at CCBC Catonsville
When: 11:10 a.m. March 23, 8 p.m. March 24-25, 3 p.m. March 26 and 10 a.m. March 27
Where: Center for the Arts Theatre at CCBC Catonsville, 800 S. Rolling Road, Catonsville.
Cost: $10 for general admission, $5 for seniors; students and CCBC faculty, staff and alumni; free to students with current CCBC identification