LA2050 Grants Challenge applications are open now through June 28th, 2024.
2014 Grants Challenge

Deaf West Theatre Performing Arts Center and Educational Outreach Program Residency

DWT will establish a residency for its productions, training and outreach programs for both deaf and hearing artists and audiences.


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

DWT will establish a residency for its productions, training and outreach programs for both deaf and hearing artists and audiences.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South Bay


Deaf West Theatre draws artists and audiences from around the world. We also work with numerous schools in the area including Marlton School for the Deaf.

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Deaf West Theatre (DWT) is in dialogue with a number of institutes of higher learning to establish a residency. A residency would allow DWT to expand its programming and combine our resources to build our outreach exponentially.

Such a residency would open doors for meaningful ongoing collaborations with many university departments that will further obliterate stereotypes and obstacles for deaf and hearing people to work together to create, innovate, educate, communicate and ultimately improve the quality of life, as training and experience leads to gainful employment and entrepreneurship in the entertainment industry at large.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Deaf West Theatre will establish a 3-5 production per year subscription season. Productions will be developed and performed at this location and occasional other venues in L.A. County, perhaps include national tours and Broadway (case history - "Big River" Two Tony Award Nominations) - bringing more awareness to Deaf West and CSUN as co-presenters and to the LACA 2050 Grant Program.

Deaf West Theatre will conduct four 13-week educational outreach programs at culturally underserved schools (K-12) in L.A. County where both deaf and hearing students and faculty will benefit. The participating classes will be brought to Deaf West Theatre's performance space to enjoy a sho , engage in Q&A with artists and crew and tour the facilities for further inspiration.

During the Summer, Deaf West Theatre will conduct a 4-week intensive Professional Training Program for deaf and hard of hearing artists, selected from both Los Angeles County and a nation-wide talent pool. The instructors and guest speakers will be established deaf and hearing entertainment industry professionals.

Interns from nearly every degree program at such an institute will be encouraged to join us (theater, film, tv, new technology, accounting, marketing, legal, etc.) Exposing our community to every aspect of show 'business' will better their chances of attaining gainful entertainment industry employment outside the limitations of non-profit theater.

Conversely, every hearing student or intern who interacts with us, will have their 'eyes, ears and hearts' opened to the notion that if they are in a position some day to consider a deaf candidate for job, they would need not hesitate to hire that person.

With the increasing popularity of sign language, DWT will offer free workshops in advance of our productions, to give students on campus and general audiences the fun of learning specific signs from each stage production, thereby making their visit to the theater, even more exciting as they proudly 'catch' the signs they recognize in dialogue and/or song.

A documentary behind-the-scenes web series for our youtube channel, depicting the journey of our productions and our residency will further enlighten and benefit all.

An annual "Signing in the Streets" event will continue the tradition started at Disneyland in March, 2012, where thousands joined from across the southland in celebration of Deaf culture.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

Through Deaf West Theatre's continued and expanded… 1) multi-award winning dramas, comedies and musicals, presented in both sign language and voice 2) educational outreach programs that journey to schools K-12 and back to the CSUN campus and 3) professional deaf and hard of hearing artists training program in summer months… boundaries and stereotypes will be obliterated, communication between deaf and hearing people will be enhanced, employment opportunities increased, and both deaf and hearing entrepreneurs will be inspired to create new innovations to further level the playing field.

New technology has made the auditory world visual across many platforms. A deaf director can wear glasses that scroll voice-to-text so they are privy to whatever audio is being heard over the hearing crew's headphones. Sony has made glasses that scroll captions for deaf audiences at certain cinemas. New technologies are being invented every day, and a Deaf West Theatre residency, putting sign language artistry together with the latest technologies being created by students, together, we may discover new innovations so that both deaf and hearing audiences can benefit from and share.

Educational outreach in theater arts can be critically important for deaf and hard of hearing children in schools (K-12), their language development (both sign language and English) can depend on it, as well as building a sense of cultural identity and the self esteem required to express themselves fully in any language. Deaf West Theater was founded via a 12-year old deaf child's dream a very long time ago, sitting alone and isolated in a theater with his hearing family watching a show he could barely grasp a word of. He envisioned a theater where deaf children could experience theater in their native visual sign language as well as spoken language, to be enjoyed with both deaf and hearing families and friends. A Deaf West Theatre residency amid institutional role models that are thriving examples of diversity, inclusion and equality, will be a microcosm of what we hope the future will be for our children.

Whom will your project benefit?

To be deaf or hard of hearing is to be one of 22.4 million Americans often denied - as individuals and as a community - the enrichment offered only by the arts. According to the California Department of Rehabilitation, the core community we serve has an unemployment rate of 45% and a mean income of $17,549. In LA schools, 90% of deaf students in mainstream programs are offered little or no contact with deaf peers. 60% of deaf seniors upon graduation remain largely illiterate with a grade 2.8 reading level.

In recent years, social networking, texting, and cochlear implants are breakthroughs that have made communication easier for deaf people. Despite these advances, younger deaf people risk not having the opportunity to participate meaningfully in Deaf culture. Previously, when enrollment in deaf-only schools was more common, participation in deaf clubs and social organizations fostered a defined culture that emerged among peers and mentors. A DWT residency would be the best of both worlds and would allow Deaf West Theater to become a vibrant point of interest in Los Angeles County.

The following figures are projected based conservatively on Deaf West Theatre's production and program history between 1990 to the present:

1) Mainstage Productions

Audience - average 4 six-week productions per year at conservative 75% theater capacity = 9000

Performers, Crew, Staff - average 50 people x 4 productions = 200

2) Children's Theatre Educational Outreach Workshops

30 students (K-12) x 4 schools = 120 children

5 performances at Deaf West Theatre = 5 shows x 99 seats = 495 children

DWT instructors and interpreters = 16

3) Professional Deaf and Hard of Hearing Artists Training Program

Students (age 18+) = 150

Instructors and Guest Speakers = 15

4) Documentary Filming / Video of DWT productions & Behind The Scenes-

Crews, interns, interpreters, volunteers = 100

5) Free Sign Lanaguage Theater Workshops for Audiences before each week of production

Average 30 participants x 6 wks x 4 productions = 940

6) 'Signing In The Streets' at CSUN (conservative estimate) = 1000

Total projected number of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing children and adults (directly) benefiting from this project = 12,036

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

*Cal State Northridge (CSUN):

Status: Active dialogue in progress

Benefit: CSUN has a terrific theater department and the most highly regarded Deaf Studies program in the country, supported by the National Center on Deafness on its campus.

National Center on Deafness (NCOD):

Status: Part of the CSUN / DWT dialogue

Benefit: NCOD is on campus at CSUN and is a resource center for everything deaf and hard of hearing related.

Center Theatre Group:

Status: Likely production-specific partner.

Benefit: CTG has co-produced three sign language musical theater productions with DWT: "Big River" (2 Tony Award nominations and a special Tony for Artistic Excellence, a national tour and command performance for the Princess of Japan), "Sleeping Beauty Wakes" and "Pippin." We would be building on prior successes.


Status: The full scope of our previously successful children's educational outreach program would be reinstated.

Benefit: LAUSD and other LA County school districts will help us identify where deaf youth are most at risk and in need of inclusion in the arts.

*NOTE - In the event that a DWT Residency at CSUN does not come to full fruition, the following schools known to have significant deaf / hard of hearing attendees and a popular sign language interpreter program on campus are: Pierce College, Santa Monica College, Pasadena City College, El Camino College and as their student population and sign language teachers are all in DWT's long-standing circle of friends, artists, audiences and some board members as well, we will likely find a residency at one of these L.A. County higher-education learning centers as an alternative. CSULA, UCLA, USC, and CalArts are other strong possibilities. There are also other non-profit theatres throughout the county that would benefit equally from a DWT residency under their auspices, sharing space and equipment (as DWT has with The Antaeus Company).

Until a residency agreement with any organization is finalized, our budget does not assume financial obligation (cash or in-kind) from any potential partner.

How will your project impact the LA2050 CREATE metrics?

Employment in creative industries

Arts establishments per capita

Concentration of manufacturing activity in LA

Federal research grant funding

Jobs per capita

Minority- and women-owned firms

Gini coefficient

Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric)

Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Employment in creative industries - Training and employment during DWT's residency at CSUN will lead to gainful employment of deaf individuals in the entertainment industry.

Arts establishments per capita - CSUN's new Performing Art Center fills a void for hearing audiences that previously existed in the area. DWT's residency will likewise fill the void for deaf and hard of hearing artists and audiences.

Federal Research Grant Funding - DWT's residency at CSUN itself could be a worthy federally funded research project, delving into specific areas of national and global interest such as the process of translating written text and music into sign language equivalent and making theater accessible and equal for all.

Jobs Per Capita -- Toward the goal of accessibility, DWT and CSUN may invent new technology for artists and audiences, thereby creating more patents, more entrepreneurs, more jobs.

Minority- and women-owned firms - DWT has always been deaf-run, employing equal numbers of men and women, deaf and hearing. Our productions are most often a rainbow of color and mixture of deaf, and hearing men and women.

Gini Coefficient - The work opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing individuals will improve via this residency; training, employment and being part of a larger world-community.

Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric) - As combined PR efforts spread the news, momentum can reach critical mass of awareness world-wide via the internet. A DWT residency at CSUN would increase all sources of contributed funding and earned revenue streams and maximize community involvement. If our model proves successful, non-profit arts organizations with residencies at universities could become commonplace.

Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric) - Sadly, there are deaf individuals who grow up with minimal language which puts them on an unwitting path to wrong-doing or simple misunderstanding, resulting in incarceration. On a case by case basis, there may be an opportunity at DWT at CSUN to create employment for formerly incarcerated deaf individuals.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.


Audience, artist, staff, board, student, teacher, volunteer and community surveys will provide subjective participant experiences.


Theatre reviews will provide an objective evaluation of our work from a mainstream industry point of view.


Artistic Awards from theater organizations and publications will measure our competitive standing.


Earned Income - Ticket sales, program book ad sales, concessions.

Contributed Income - Government, Foundation, Corporate, Individual Donors


Facebook is our primary platform for interacting with a world-wide deaf and hearing fan base. We have over 10,000 Likes.

We will continue to expand our social media base on all platforms, using applications that help build targeted meaningful engagement.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Funding for the arts and funding for disabilities and the arts, have diminished greatly over the past years and while we've been able to continue limited activities with less, we've had to reinvent ourselves and be embracing of the notion of being under the umbrella of a large institution with like-minded interests and philosophies is better than trying to maintain complete autonomy in a challenging economy.

Previous collaborations have taught us that it is possible to "serve two masters" - in this case, both deaf and hearing audiences, equally. In being part of a mainstream university community, we will have to look no further than our own campus to engage in prolific deaf and hearing collaborations.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We have begun preliminary talks with the Theater Department at CSUN and with other institutions of higher learning. Based on these conversations, we can gauge significant interest. This grant would kickstart the process, and we would be able to begin our activities almost immediately.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

CHALLENGE: Our donors and funders may get the impression that their contributions are no longer necessary if we have residency at CSUN.

SOLUTION: To counter that, our own appeals will emphasize how important it is that Deaf West Theatre bring its own funding in order to be an equal and valuable partner / tenant.

CHALLENGE: In 1990, Deaf West Theatre was born under the umbrella of The Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles where it remained until 1993 when funding allowed Deaf West Theatre to rent its own facility. At that juncture, our constituents celebrated the notion of a deaf-run organization standing on its own with complete autonomy.

SOLUTION: While this might not be entirely the case as a resident company, we are in the best position to understand the process of collaboration and problem solving as issues arise. We are poised to meet all challenges and to contribute meaningfully to the community. DWT will continue in-depth dialogues and enter into formal agreements supported by the leadership of any organizations or institutions.

What resources does your project need?

Network/relationship support

Money (financial capital)

Publicity/awareness (social capital)

Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)

Community outreach