You may be familiar with actor James Caverly’s work as Theo on the hit tv show Only Murders in the Building. Or perhaps you attended Olney Theatre Center’s innovative production of The Music Man in the summer of 2022 in which James starred as the charismatic conman Harold Hill. This talented performer certainly has a familiar face!
But what you may not know, is that James was the driving force behind the concept of that very production of The Music Man. Featuring an ensemble of Deaf and hearing actors, this multi-lingual production used American Sign Language, supertitles, and spoken English to put a spin on a classic musical and to elevate the story in powerful, humorous, and exciting ways.
James approached Artistic Director Jason Loewith with this idea and after some passionate pitching, he was selected to receive a workshop funded by Olney Theatre Center’s Vanguard Arts Fund initiative.
With a $350,000 endowment gift from the Eugene B. Casey Foundation, the Vanguard Arts Fund was designed to support the development of exciting new projects, including the hit musical A.D. 16, the beautiful play The Joy That Carries You, and of course, the Deaf-hearing production of The Music Man. By providing resources for workshops and bringing artists together to facilitate collaboration, the Vanguard Arts Fund nurtures groundbreaking ideas and helps bring them to the stage.
To read more about James Caverly’s experience as a Vanguard artist, see our conversation below! And to learn more about how to apply for the Vanguard Arts Fund, visit olneytheatre.org/about-us/work-here/vanguard-arts-fund
What project did you work on with the support of the Vanguard Arts Fund?
In 2016, I had the chance to see Deaf West's Spring Awakening on Broadway featuring an ensemble of Deaf and hearing actors onstage. Because of that experience, I pitched The Music Man to Jason Loewith– I had this strong vision of a Deaf/hearing production because the storyline made absolute sense when looking through the eyes of a Deaf person like myself.
Were you able to collaborate with other artists? What was that collaboration like?
Through the Vanguard Arts Fund, we had a cast of 10 artists, both local and out-of-state, and half of them were Deaf. The project was helmed by two co-directors, Alexandria Wailes, a Deaf artist from NYC, and Michael Baron, the Artistic Director of Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, who took this opportunity to experiment with certain stage numbers and approaches to communication styles (i.e. signed dialogue vs spoken and signed dialogue). At the time, it was just an experiment to help Olney answer two questions:
1) Could this show be compatible with Olney's audiences?
2) What unique challenges would we face if we were to mount this production at Olney?
What was the Vanguard process like? What sort of support did you receive? What were you able to accomplish?
Through the Vanguard Arts Fund, we were able to provide housing for Deaf actors from out of state as well as hire a team of interpreters to facilitate conversations in the rehearsal room. The result was a seamless rehearsal process and we were able to form a strong bond between the artists in the room without the barriers of communication.
After spending a week of experimenting, the actors could see what this show could accomplish and they bought into the dream of The Music Man at Olney Theatre Center. It took a few years (amid setbacks due to COVID) to finally see our project become a reality: a full production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man at Olney Theatre Center in the summer of 2022.
Would you recommend the Vanguard Arts Fund to other artists? Who would you
recommend this opportunity to?
I strongly recommend any artists who have big dreams and bigger ambitions to apply for the Vanguard Arts Fund. It is a chance to make your long-held vision become a reality!