Wheelock Family Theatre is a professional theatre associated with Actors' Equity Association. Many of our casts also include children and teens, most of whom are selected from students in our classes and workshops.
The Taste of Sunrise
Elbert Joseph (Tuc)
“As an actor who is Black and Hard of Hearing, pursuing a theatre career is doubly difficult for me. As an actor who is Hard of Hearing, the concatenation of listening and focusing is a challenge. Additionally, developing my speech ability has been difficult. I was once told by a performer that I was difficult to understand and that I should keep my conversations short. While I felt hurt, I began to understand that most of my characters were non-verbal due to my diction. It encouraged me to be strong and to practice my voice work. I took a voice class at Wheelock Family Theatre with Kathryn Woods. It was helpful but I felt it wasn't enough for me as a Hard of Hearing actor in a mostly hearing world. So I kept working on my speech and diction and never gave up. I promised myself that I would not get discouraged and that I would have an impact as a theatre artist. I want to be a leader not only in colorful casting at WFT and elsewhere, but also for access and inclusion.
I "grew up" at Wheelock Family Theatre, starting with the first show I saw with my classmates - Peter Pan. That's when I understood how theatre transforms lives on and off stage. When I returned to school I was given a homework assignment to choose an actor from the show as a pen pal. I chose Jane Staab. I wrote her and told her what a strong influence Peter Pan had on me, and how I would love to be in it and meet her. When WFT produced Tuck Everlasting, I met Jane, still in costume as Mae, and had the opportunity to speak with her. Jane encouraged me to audition for The Wizard of Oz the following year and I did. It was my first audition ever and my first acting experience. I felt I didn't do well, but my passion and hunger for performing must have come through as Jane called to let me know I had been cast as a Munchkin.
I am glad to be a Hard of Hearing and Black actor – it makes me unusual in the Boston theatre community, and I am glad to be bilingual in English and American Sign Language. I carry WFT’s mission in me. I want to transform lives through theatre and demonstrate that casting and storytelling can be reimagined and reinterpreted to reflect our audiences. Working at WFT has shaped me as a person and taught me about self-reliance as well as my responsibilities towards humanity. WFT has become my second family and I am so proud to be a part of it! I would especially like to thank my pen pal, acting advisor, peer, director, and family member, Jane Staab - thank you for spreading my wings. Thank you for the wonderful magic you gave me, I will always treasure it.”
EJ is an actor (Pink Lady Slipper at American Repertory Theatre, multiple roles in Arabian Nights at Central Square Theatre, The Horse and School Boy in Pippi Longstocking at WFT), ASL Interpreter (Porgy and Bess at American Repertory Theatre, Wicked at Opera House, Billy Elliot at Opera House) and ASL Coach (Flashdance at Colonial Theater, Mountaintop at Central Square Theatre). The Taste of Sunrise is his 21st production at WFT.
Cliff Odle* (Jonas Tucker)
There are many reasons why I love working with Wheelock Family Theatre. Three reasons, however, stand out above the rest. Their method of casting, accessibility, and their work with youth.
From my first production with WFT, Saint Joan, I was impressed with how Wheelock embraces non-traditional casting. In subsequent shows here I’ve been able to engage in a variety of roles such as an 18th century businessman (Tale of Two Cities), a 19th century undertaker, (Oliver) and currently, an early 20th century mid-western farmer. For most other theatres, putting an African American into these roles would be considered risky stunt-casting. For Wheelock, it’s simply "casting". I’ve been made to feel that I’ve been cast, not merely because of my ethnicity, but because my talent is respected here. What makes their approach to non-traditional casting work is that the casting is never a comment on anything else but what talent the person brings to the role. It is an actor’s dream.
Another reason that I love working with WFT is that they excel in the art of accessibility. For some theatre’s being accessible simply means having a handicap ramp or maybe a deaf interpreter for a select performance. For WFT, accessibility is more than a marketing tool. It is ingrained in the philosophy of the theatre itself. The Taste of Sunrise is an example of that philosophy coming to life. There are few companies that can truly appreciate the complexity it takes to stage a show where a significant number of people in the cast, including one of the directors, is hearing impaired. On top of that, there are the logistics of adding sign interpreters onstage who have to go through the same process of developing characters as the hearing actors. It has been a tough, grueling journey, but I believe the results are nothing short of enlightening. In working with Susan Zeder’s play I’ve not only begun to learn a new language, but I’ve been privileged to learn about an entire culture that is so easy for hearing people to overlook. I’ve learned that deaf culture is more than just a group of people who can’t hear. It is a community with histories and struggles, but also politics and controversies. Like everyone else, they struggle to gain a definition and stake their place in the sun.
Finally, there is the work WFT does with youth. In addition to being an actor, I am a college professor. In that capacity, I revel in the chance to teach what I know about the craft that I engage in. The shows that I have done at here have and continue to give me a chance to teach what I know to young developing actors. Like any other craft, the best way to learn is by example. At WFT, younger actors cast in shows get to rub elbows with some of Boston’s finest professional actors. WFT also has classes that teach great basic fundamentals with the added bonus of being relevant to the shows that are being produced.
I could go on for several more paragraphs about my experiences with WFT. But, I think the word "Family" tells you everything you need to know about this theatre company. WFT is a supporting, nurturing organization that has served several generations of performers and patrons and will certainly go on to serve several generations more.
Ebubechukwu Sho Ndukwe (Ensemble)
If you’ve ever had a close friend like the ones I have, you know that there comes a point when it feels like it’s just always been. You know that you weren’t born knowing each other, but somehow you just can’t seem to remember a time when you didn’t. That’s the way it felt only a few months after first learning to sign at 8 years old. It’s the way it felt after first becoming active in the deaf community in college and after teaching my first kindergarten class of Deaf students. American Sign Language and I have had a long meaningful "friendship" that I don’t think I ever thought would bring me to the stage. Yet, here I am.
Only three years in, being a part of the WFT family as a sign performer just feels like it’s always been. WFT’s commitment to accessibility for its patrons was evident early on and I continued to be impressed production after production. With so much at stake, the environment could easily become stressful and competitive but instead has always been welcoming and nurturing. Though WFT was not my first introduction to performance interpreting, I can certainly say I’ve grown up here.
I remain grateful for each opportunity to forward WFT’s mission to provide an inclusive and accessible experience for all. I am especially honored to be a part of this production of The Taste of Sunrise. It is such a beautiful and powerful culmination of so many things I hold dear. And you guessed it, it just feels like it’s always been.
Brittany Rolfs* (Nell Hicks)
WFT is unlike any other theatre company in its commitment to excellence, access, inclusion, artistry, and fun, honest storytelling, wrapped up in an all-encompassing FAMILY. The main players here have become family to me, and perhaps unbeknownst to them, have taught me so much about art, life, and myself. Whether chatting with Lisa about thoughts for her beautiful costumes, or admiring Marge's unparalleled work on props, or learning how Matthew's intricate and incredible sets work, everyday is a learning experience in all facets of the theatre. Here you are able to find some of Boston's most seasoned actors sharing the stage with some young actors who are brand new to performing, and every level of experience in between. Watching this team of designers and actors work together is a sort of magical symbiosis that always results in something very exciting!
Working on The Taste of Sunrise has been particularly special for me. When I first started at WFT I was playing Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. That production was my introduction to ASL its beautiful expressiveness. Now in The Taste of Sunrise, we are working with both hearing and Deaf actors on stage at all times, mutually telling the story of Tuc, through both English and American Sign Language.
One of Jonas/Tuc's lines in the show, "Home, always here.", I find to be perfectly fitting in terms of what WFT is so strongly rooted in; no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you're from, we are in this art form, this life, together. We are one. We are FAMILY. And home is indeed, always here.
Members of Actors' Equity Association appearing in photos on this website: Cliff Odle, Brittany Rolfs.