Final Bow: Daniel N. Durant on the "Unique Experience" of Starring in Spring Awakening
It's safe to say that Daniel N. Durant didn't expect that starring in a small black box production of Spring Awakening in Los Angeles would lead to making his Broadway debut. Yet everything about Spring Awakening has defied the odds, from this current revival to Michael Mayer's original production of the musical written by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, which moved from off-Broadway to Broadway and won the 2007 Best Musical Tony.
This Spring Awakening was even less conventional than the original: Directed by Michael Arden for Deaf West Theatre, the company is made up of deaf and hearing actors who deliver dialogue in both American Sign Language and spoken English. After much acclaim (and two runs in California), it moved to Broadway last fall. Durant, a deaf actor who signs the role of the ill-fated Moritz (while Alex Boniello delivers dialogue verbally), so impressed audiences with his sympathetic and multifaceted performance that he landed a spot on TheaterMania's 2015 Best Broadway Debuts list.
As the show's run comes to a close, Durant looks back on how this particular experience, in his mind, fulfills the main goal of theater itself.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to sign?
"You wanna laugh. It's too absurd. You start to ask. Can't hear a word. You want to crash and burn. Right, tell me more."
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
Some of those memories I will take to my grave. I truly don't think I could pick just one.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
I remember one time right before the song "Bitch of Living," the mic fell out of the mic stand that Alex Boniello uses at that point in the show. Seeing this happen, Alex Wyse quickly grabbed it in time to hold it in front of Alex Boniello, so he could still sing into in. I believe there have been a few mic incidents where Alex Wyse has noticed and saved the day.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
I love the pieces of artwork received from audience members. They are always interesting to me, because it's the best kind of feedback. When supporters creatively express their take on how they received my character, it allows me to gain more insight as to how my character is being conceptualized and interpreted by the diverse minds that show up to support us. At the same time, artwork is such a vulnerable form of expression, and I very much appreciate the time and care that goes into each piece.
5. Who is the coolest person who came to see your show? (You can't say family!)
I officially geeked out when I learned that James Franco came to the show. I am still so appreciative of that. I remember in that moment thinking, "Did I seriously just perform in front of James Franco?" That thought still blows my mind.
6. What does being involved in this production mean for you as a performer?
It has been easily one of the most unique experiences in my professional and personal life. I [was] involved in the workshop of this way back when Michael Arden, Andy Mientus, and DJ Kurs were exploring the show's possibilities, so to see it start from workshop into a fully actualized Broadway production was an honor and a privilege. I have seen and learned so much from the character development process itself, and also from this incredibly innovative cast and crew.
7. How long did it take for you and Alex Boniello, who plays Moritz's voice, to become as in sync as you are in the show? Were there obstacles that you discovered along the way in terms of signing with the music?
Our process developed very organically. Making certain that Moritz was clearly portrayed was at the forefront of our relationship. Alex has become like a brother to me. He is so aware of the big picture here and that has made him incredible to work with.
8. In your view, how has this production of Spring Awakening changed people's perceptions of the deaf acting community?
What I am most often told from audience members is that when deaf actors are portraying characters with hearing actors that use voice involved in that process, it provides opportunities for a wider audience to share in the experience together, which is the goal of theater: a shared experience that tells an important story… In this production alone, we have several…co-character relationships. They all manifest differently, and yet they all aim to accomplish the same thing: Communication. Theater is a perfect venue to explore these new ideas and see what can be successful for the future of how we all communicate with one another as equals at the table.
9. What tips do you have for people who are interested in learning American Sign Language? Are there books or apps that you recommend?
Books can be limiting at times since ASL is a 3-dimensional language. http://www.signlanguage101.com, with Dr. Byron Bridges, is a great resource.
10. What musical do you want Deaf West Theater to take on next? And what role would you want to play?