Deaf West Theatre

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Deaf West Theatre Company is a North Hollywood, California based cultural institution serving as a model for deaf theater worldwide. Deaf West Theatre Inc., was founded to directly improve and enrich the cultural lives of the 1.2 million deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who live in the Los Angeles area. Noted for being the first professional resident Sign Language Theatre in the western half of the United States, Deaf West Theatre productions, actors and directors have won more than 80 theatre awards for artistic merit.

Founded in 1989 by Bob Hiltermann [1] and Irene Oppenhiem, it was originally called “Fountain Theatre of the Deaf,” because their main venue was the Fountain Theatre located in Hollywood. During the first year the theater primarily taught workshops for dozens of deaf writers, directors and actors. Among the first attendees were Ed Waterstreet,[2] CJ Jones, Anthony Natale, Terrylene Sacchetti, Richard Kendall and Phyllis French.

In 1990, the theater began to successfully present short plays. A majority of the performances were attended by casting directors (both hearing and deaf) who cast several of the performers in TV shows and films. Later, due to financial issues, Mr. Hiltermann announced that he was stepping down as the full-time Managing Director. Ed Waterstreet was chosen to take his place due to his experience with the “National Theater for the Deaf,” and he was named the theater’s first Artistic Director. They soon changed the name to “Deaf West Theater,” which was taken from the “Deaf Way Festival” in Washington D.C., where Bob Hiltermann had been the producer. Their first full-length play was “The Gin Game,” and starred Phyllis Frelich and Pat Graybill, and Bob Hiltermann starred in their successful second production, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

In 1992, Hiltermann left the company completely and Ed Waterstreet assumed the managing and artistic duties full-time. Under his artistic direction the company has become very successful and now has its own art-deco complex in the NoHo Arts District of North Hollywood, which includes a 90-seat theatre, complete with a state-of-the-art sound system with sub-woofers under the raked seating, an infrared headphone system, and captioning capabilities. The theatre is within a ten-minute drive of many major film production studios including Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, NBC, and Columbia/Tri-Star.

Today, DWT provides exposure and access to professional theatre, filling a void for deaf artists and audiences. It serves the cultural, educational, social and employment needs of its constituents and is an institution for the discovery and exploration of artists' identities and their stature as artists. Through the medium of Sign Language Theatre, a legacy of deaf culture is created, shared, and preserved.

Presenting adaptations of classics, contemporary and original works, DWT is dedicated to the production of theatre at its highest artistic quality, which nurtures and promotes the talents of its actors, writers, directors and designers. DWT productions are presented in American Sign Language with simultaneous translation in English, providing for all an enhanced theatrical experience.

Deaf West Theatre's most notable accomplishments are bringing a revival of Big River to the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway in 2003, as well as Spring Awakening in 2015.


  1. ^ Bob HIltermann
  2. ^ Ed Waterstreet

[1] Bob Hiltermann [2] Ed Waterstreet

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