Several area theaters routinely offer American Sign Language-interpreted performances. 

But with its Deaf Theatre Project, 574 Theatre Company plans to expand such access to the stage with its production of “Into the Woods” that opens today at the Battell Center.

“We have a really vibrant deaf community in South Bend and they get the chance to see productions sometimes, if they’re lucky enough to have a production interpreted,” co-founder and artistic director Alex E. Price says. “But they’ve never really had the opportunity here in South Bend to jump up on stage and take part in the action, so we wanted to provide that opportunity for people who wanted to do that.”

The theater partnered with United Health Service’s Community Services With All Deaf program to stage the popular Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical with simultaneous signing and voicing casts. 

Eleven actors — seven of them deaf and four who can hear — will sign their roles and be dressed in costumes, while 11 other actors will speak the lines and attach themselves to their respective signed characters, similar to spirits of the forest.

“A lot of people think that deaf people can’t do things,” Candus Griffin, who signs The Witch, says through an interpreter. “I want people to realize that deaf people are at the same level as hearing people. We don’t lag behind. I want people to recognize the deaf community and that we have skills and talents just like everyone else.”

And that, she says, means deaf people can be involved in things such as theater. 

“We can be actors, too,” she says. “We can be funny; we can be sad; we can laugh; we can show all these things to a hearing world.”

A certified ASL interpreter, Christie Maurer signs the role of Cinderella and also directs the signing cast.

“You don’t really see people do this, combining hearing actors and signing actors,” she says. “There are a few places that have done it but not very many, so resources as far as, like, knowing how to go about the process are not readily available.”