Signed Symmetry Through Theatre

Drew Van Chau

Two men sit side by side, both with glazed eyes and disheveled hair. They stand and walk in opposing directions, into mirrored scenery. Both start ranting at matching women, one raises his voice and the other raises his hands. Moving in conjunction, their sadness becomes equally apparent. They seemingly go down a rabbit hole as their anger, their grief, becomes palpable.  The two seniors, Ryan Kearton and Nick Januhowski, play the same role in the theater company’s UIL performance Rabbit Hole.

“We’re doing the show where we’ll be splitting the stage and half of us are doing it in sign language and the other half is speaking,” said Januhowski.

The play has a cast of five characters that are being played by two people simultaneously. There is an imaginary midline in the set and everything is mirrored on both sides, both the set and the characters themselves.

“The whole idea is that, layered in the show, there are parallel universes,” said Kearton. “We take that concept and we use it to show two different parallel universes, one where they are all speaking in sign and one where they do everything spoken. We’re doing our best to make every movement and all of the sets of blocking to be completely mirrored on both sides.”

The show will be completely mirrored throughout the story with larger motions being sporadically delegated to seperate sides of the stage to draw attention to both sides. The company is working to ensure both sides are watched while not making the audience have to constantly look between both sides throughout the story, taking away from the emotional or serious moments.

“In order for our concept to work, we have to be the exact same characters, acting the exact same ways, and moving the exact same ways,” said Kearton. “So, when you are looking back and forth, you see the exact same story, picking up at the exact same spot, just being done maybe in a little different way.”

The set is also mirrored on both sides. Because it is a UIL event, the entire set is confined to an 8×8 foot square with everything outside of that box being large, gray blocks or odd shapes. These blocks will be used to create the outline of a house while inside of the square there will be props and decorations to simulate a home.

“Both sets of actors use one sofa. The walls of the set are greyed in the middle and they slowly fade out to a blue and different colors to show they are different houses,” said Kearton. “We will both get our coats at the same time. Then for the couch, we will both be sitting on opposite sides of it at the same time.”

The actors have to be careful to block everything and execute it all together. They had a lock-in to talk about and to consolidate their characters and their personal takes on them, then the actors began to come to school everyday between 6:20 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. to practice their mirroring. They stay at school until 8 p.m. nearly everyday continuing their practice.

“Me and Ryan have a great chemistry. We are up to the part where we know our lines and are trying to mirror one another, and Ryan and I have our physicality down pretty well,” said Januhowski.  “We’re the same size, we’ve been acting together for a while, and we hang out all of the time so we know how one another works.”

To practice, the group has done multiple clinics, where they perform for old judges and old directors who provide them with notes. The group will also offer a performance for Tompkins students after their UIL performance.

“We are doing it for the contest, for the judges, but we are doing one showing for a deaf school,” said Kearton.  “It’s pretty cool, but also means that we really need to get our ASL down. We can’t be pretending to be doing ASL and be getting every few words right. We are actually doing the whole thing in real ASL.”