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Treshelle Edmond Overcomes Challenges & Makes Her Broadway Debut in Spring Awakening

Treshelle Edmond is a name that you should know. She is making her Broadway debut in the revival of Spring Awakening, the only Black actress in the production and has been since they initially started this production in Deaf West theater downtown LA September 2014. From theTEdmond2 2 website:

When it debuted on Broadway [2006], Spring Awakening’s raw and honest portrayal of youth in revolt shattered expectations of what a musical could do, earning it 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book for writer, Steven Sater, and Best Score for composer Duncan Sheik and lyricist Steven Sater. Deaf West’s innovative new production takes this already revolutionary musical to electrifying new heights by choreographing sign language into the production, intensifying the rift between the lost and longing teenagers and the adults who refuse to hear them.

Previously Treshelle, a deaf woman, was the American Sign Language (“ASL”) performer at the Super Bowl this year where she performed “America, the Beautiful” with John Legend and the National Anthem with Idina Menzel. Her television credits include “House, M.D.” and “Glee.” Broadway Black had the opportunity to interview Treshelle.

Broadway Black(BB): Tell us about Martha, your character in Spring Awakening, and her secret.

Treshelle Edmond (TE): Martha has amazing strength. She accepts her father’s beatings and sexual abuse, as well as her mother’s denial of both; most women in the 18th century were subordinate to their husband and had no power. Martha also loves being with her friends away from her home and she has a secret crush that she can’t reveal.

BB: Is there a speaking voice for Martha as there are for some of the other characters?

TE: Yes, I work with an amazing soul named Kathryn Gallagher who voices for my character, Martha. We both have to empathize to deliver the pain that Martha has been suppressing for so long. Once Martha tells her story, it is her time to release the storm and let it rain.

BB: Describe the significance of making your BroadTreshelle-Edmond-Lauren-Patten-Ali-Strokerway debut as a Black deaf actress.

TE: Honestly, I can’t express how proud I am of the cast; most of us are making our Broadway debuts. As for me, there is nothing bigger than doing what I love. Making my Broadway debut as a Black deaf actress is significant because there have not been many roles available to deaf actresses or to Black actresses. Hearing women have been cast in deaf roles when there is deaf talent available. I think that my Broadway debut will open doors for other deaf Black actresses everywhere and hopefully create more opportunities where deaf talent can be used.

BB: What hurdles do you overcome in performing that the hearing community might not think about? For example, not only the logistics of hitting your mark on stage, but the difficulty you face in auditioning even before you get to a stage.

TE: Because I am deaf, it is extremely difficult to hit my mark on stage. There are cues for everything in the choreography so that we can all be in sync. Because I can’t hear, I have to rely heavily on what I feel and express myself that way. I also have to depend on the rest of the cast and the ASL Masters to help us all stay together. It is different on stage than on TV. On TV, you can do the scenes over until you get it right. On stage, you have to nail it right the first time and every single time. As for auditioning, most people don’t think to have ASL interpreters available or to look directly at me when they speak so that I can understand what they are saying.

BB: Spring Awakening seems the perfect vehicle in which to incorporate ASL because the story is about empathy and the dangers of not communicating. What other Broadway shows might lend themselves well to use of ASL in the production?

TE: I think every Broadway show could or should implement deaf actors and ASL in the production. Every deaf person should have the opportunity to audition or play any role. For example, the Spring Awakening cast was invited to see Amazing Grace on Broadway. At the end of the performance was an unexpected surprise: the entire cast signed Amazing Grace in ASL. It was beautiful and I cried.  


BB: While you’re not the only deaf actor in the production, you are the only Black actress. What additional challenges do you face because of this, not just in Spring Awakening, but generally?

TE: First and foremost, hair! But really, it’s the character that challenges me the most. It’s a tough subject. Sometimes it’s hard to get roles being a Black deaf actress because there aren’t a lot of TV shows or plays that cast for Black actresses. The exception was when I was on “House, M.D.” They specifically wanted a deaf actress for the part. I am lucky and even more blessed that this Spring Awakening company is like my second family. We all look at each other equally and we are past racism and discrimination. I can see the world is still living in it; this is why it is my goal to be a role model for those who look to me for positivity.

BB: You’ve performed at the Super Bowl and made your Broadway debut. Those are two incredible feats at the age of 24. What is on the horizon for you and what is on your bucket list?

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.47.00 PMTE: Oh my goodness – I never would have dreamed of performing at the Super Bowl and debuting on Broadway all in the same year! All before the age of 25! My birthday is on September 10 and I will be 25.  I have no idea what the future may bring but as long as I am doing what I love and am happy, that’s all that matters to me. As far as a bucket list, I don’t really have one. I always want to challenge myself with something new. Because once you face your fear, it’s like a blossoming flower; it thrives and makes you stronger. It’s all about growing up and making the best of it every single day. I can’t say where you will see me but you will definitely see me again soon.

BB: You champion women’s empowerment and self-love, having to overcome racism, sexism, and audism. How does this manifest in your everyday life?

TE: It used to be, if nothing was going right for me, I would build up my frustration and I would just cry (I rarely did, but it happened). I can’t do that now. Instead I get up in the morning and the first thing I do is look at the daily quotes I received in my email. All these quotes represent wisdom that we should live up to. I always seek improvement and inspiration. If I don’t like it, I do something about it and change it.

BB: What should the hearing community know and how can we be supportive and more inclusive?

TE: Learn the ASL alphabet; it’ll save you lot of time and could really be useful in an emergency. Finger-spelling is one of the best ways to learn sign language! Also, be patient with yourself. Learning a new language is always hard. Don’t be afraid to try, you’ll be alright!

BB: What advice would you give to young Black actresses?

TE: Do what you love and love what you do. Also, get in love with yourself ’cause that’s where you’ll grow and gain a whole new open perspective on life. You can accomplish so much more when you achieve that. Also, don’t let anyone else’s poison affect you; you’re not responsible for anything but your own feelings and happiness. Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle and always, always, always BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

At just 24, Treshelle Edmond has already accomplished so much, including overcoming discrimination and thriving both on the Broadway stage and off. Broadway Black salutes her spirit and looks forward to her next endeavors. For now, go see Treshelle in Spring Awakening during its limited engagement at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Previews begin September 8 and tickets can be purchased here.

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