Sandra Mae Frank wants Deaf theater to become the new norm

Sandra is a rising film, TV and theater star who recently appeared in the groundbreaking Broadway production of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening. It’s evident that she is passionate about her craft and she shared her thoughts on the future of ASL in the entertainment industry.

What was your first exposure to Broadway and musical theater and how did it influence you?
I honestly don’t remember exactly how I learned about Broadway & musicals but I grew up with artists – friends & family that loved photography, art, theater and musicals. I grew up knowing plays like Wicked, Rent, Spring Awakening & loved those stories so much…

But to be honest… I never imagined musicals would become one of my strong passions. Of course, I knew I’d be involved with musical theater, once or twice maybe but now, I want to do more. I want to come back on Broadway more often now. Being on Broadway as Wendla has truly changed my life.

Spring Awakening awoke something inside me and now there’s no second guessing or going back to sleep. I am in this all the way. I want to do more.

Sandra Mae Frank & Katie Boeck in Deaf West's Spring Awakening
Sandra Mae Frank & Katie Boeck in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening

Did you find it difficult to play the physical embodiment of Wendla, but not the voice (played by Katie Boeck)? Did the two of you do any special bonding exercises?
Not at all! The main purpose of having Katie as my voice is for the hearing patrons. Because they do not know ASL, they’re unable to understand me, thus having Katie as my voice actor. Just like most productions with Deaf actors, there are usually voice actors involved. However, sometimes only captions will be provided instead of voice actors.

The job of the voice actor is to follow the Deaf actor playing the character, making sure they match every delivery based on facial expressions, how the Deaf actors breathe or the purpose behind every pause while saying the lines.

Of course, Katie and I discussed the character together, what each lines really means. I showed her my translation for each line so she would be able to recognise where I am in my lines. I loved working with her and was thankful to have her with me from the first run to Broadway. We truly connected.

What was the most rewarding part about being in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening?
I’d have to write a book! *laughing*

I’d have to say… the most rewarding part of being in DWSA was the bond between cast members. We truly became a family, unlike any other productions I’ve worked with. Probably because it was nearly 3 years of working together! We all shared a story that was raw, profound and every one in the audience could relate to one of us at least or the experience of the show and we all respected that. We all worked together like a family, not just cast members for 2-3 hours a day on the stage.

What’s another show you would like to have ASL incorporated into?
Honestly… ALL OF THEM!

If the director is passionate about doing a production with Deaf actors/ASL incorporated and the vision is beautiful, there’s no limit to what we can do.

Some plays might be challenging, but that’s the point of art – take any challenge and see if you can succeed. If you don’t give it a try, you’ll never know.

What was the best part about doing Spring Awakening?
Performing songs!! I love music so much, so whenever we get to rehearse a song, it never gets tiring for me. Plus, I love blowing people’s mind that… wait, what? Deaf actors can perform songs? Haha.

[fusion_youtube id=”D16xDDyDjW4″ alignment=”right” width=”350″ height=”197″ autoplay=”false” api_params=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=””][/fusion_youtube]Any exciting projects coming up that you can tell us about?
I am part of Deaf West Theatre AGAIN (partnered with Pasadena Playhouse) as Emily Webb in Our Town. The show runs from October 1st to Oct 22nd. Get your tickets if you’re in the area!

If you remember – I did a short film, SOUND OF FEAR? Stay tuned for more information!!

Also I will be doing another musical in Spring. That’s all I’ll say for now!

As for creating my own work – I will continue to do Broadway songs without a vocalist like I did with “Defying Gravity.” Let me know what Broadway songs you’d like to see from me!

If you could work with any actor or actress alive today, who would you pick?
Jennifer Lawrence! (FYI, I answered this question with no hesitance.) I feel like we’d do amazing together because we’re similar in some ways and she inspires me completely. How she handles interviews and how she is truly herself on and off of the screen, just like I am. Her passion for indie films just like me. It’d be a DREAM to work with her someday.

Jennifer Lawrence, if you’re reading this… let’s have red wine, pizza and share amazing ideas. Plus, I’ll teach you ASL!! (I’ll start with fun signs *winks *winks)

What advice do you have for those who want to go into theater?
If you want to go into theater for fame, forget it. You won’t have success.

Oh wait, you’re doing it for the love and passion – you already have a good start. Be original. Stick to what you believe in and stand by your brand. What defines you. Bring your culture and experience in your work. Don’t ever do it for fame or wealth.

What do you want to be remembered as? Highest-paid actor or that actor that defied the norms and thrived?

Be original. Be real.

You have done TV, movies & theater– which medium do you prefer? Which do you wish had more ASL?
I love them all, but I’ll always prefer theater.

I wish there was more ASL on TV & movies BUT I think that is slowly changing. We’re starting to see more ASL as it’s starting to become the “new norm” which is amazing. NOW, we just need to work on keeping it authentic.

What was the best part about being on Broadway?
I loved being on Broadway! 8 times a week for 6 months? It wasn’t a problem for me. I loved it. I loved feeling alive on the stage and sharing the story with the audience. I could feel them gasping, laughing, crying and when the world was silent, I could feel that too. Just… something about Broadway is unique.

Plus, we got to perform on the Tonys! If it wasn’t for us being on Broadway, that wouldn’t have happened. The world wouldn’t have seen us on the screen doing two songs from Spring Awakening. The opportunities Broadway opened up for us, especially Deaf actors. We got to show them what we’re all about and to truly change the stage.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life and what lessons did that person teach you?
Monique Holt. She’s a brilliant Deaf actress, director, ASL master, visionary and more. She was my professional back when I was a freshman at Gallaudet University taking Introduction to Theatre. I never thought that theater would be my full time job. It was more of a hobby at first. I was studying to be an English teacher and one day Monique wanted to talk to me outside of class about my future and I told her how tough it would be. Especially with the way the world is, how could I succeed? She just basically told me that I could do it. She saw the talent I had hidden inside me. I guess she knew I could do it, I just needed the push. She gave me an acting internship under her that summer and that’s when I knew. it was for me. I could handle it. I could do it.

She taught me to think outside of the box, understand the meaning behind and between each line. What I mainly learned from her? The silence between lines, how I breathe and reactions. She has this raw technique with breathing that stayed with me and I use it in my everyday acting.

So Monique Holt, thank you. Truly, thank you.

Do you think theater is important?
Of course! While technology is starting to take over and everyone just prefers to watch movies in their comfortable home for only $19.99, theater will always thrive somehow. Theater thrived back in 500 BC in Athens and it’s still thriving today, 2017. The feel of going to a theater is special. I believe that’ll never change.

What was it like doing Fiddler on the Roof?
I am extremely grateful to Michael Baron, the artistic director of Lyric Theatre for choosing me. I LOVED EVERY MOMENT!!! It was my second musical theater show and again, after doing Spring Awakening and then doing Fiddler on the Roof – it just made me want to do more musicals and I know I will.

Rehearsals was only 2 weeks, while performance dates were only a week and half, but the cast and production team were AMAZING! 3 weeks with them felt like 3 months. The musical director, David Andrews Roger was brilliant to work with. I remember one time that he asked me to sign a line from the song for everyone because how I signed the song is exactly how it should be sung (if that makes sense) so it got me to thinking – he didn’t hear me sing but he SAW me sing and he could see the music in my translation. Sometimes he’d show me how it really is, then I’d change some of my translation.

It got me to thinking. If we could do that together, why can’t others do the same? Hence my “Defying Gravity” and hopes for future musical productions.

Best thing about NYC?
IT NEVER SLEEPS! Which is kind of dangerous because that means… I NEVER SLEEP?! Laughing

The city always feels ALIVE and full of art. I’d never get tired of walking in NYC with things to do and I love people there.

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