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Prince Hamlet

A bilingual Why Not Theatre production | Adapted and directed by Ravi Jain | ASL and visual translation by Dawn Jani Birley


“An unconstrained world where genre, ability, and cultural background are immaterial. In a society of growing division, Jain’s Prince Hamlet offers an honest and inclusive reflection of humanity.” —Broadway World

Performed in the spoken word and American Sign Language. Remixed, reimagined, and bilingual Prince Hamlet features a cross-cultural, gender-bent cast – challenging traditional ideas of who can tell this story. Interweaving Shakespeare’s spoken text with heightened and poetic American Sign Language, this physical theatre production creates a visually stunning retelling for both hearing and Deaf audiences.

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Workshop Talk: Intersectional Theatre
with Dawn Jani Birley

Tuesday, September 20 at 11:00 am
Presentation Hall
School of Communication and Media

Intersectional Theatre

In this hour-long lecture, internationally-acclaimed Deaf actor Dawn Jani Birley discusses the current state of access in the theatre creation process. Dawn advocates for an intersectional theatre rather than an “inclusive” approach, and she elucidates the distinctions between these two terms. Dawn discusses her career as a Deaf artist and the process of creating Prince Hamlet.

60 minutes, with Q+A up to 30 minutes.
Entry is free, but attendance needs to be arranged by a Professor/Teacher by calling:
Box Office 973-655-5112 or Camille Spaccavento x3004

(ASL) American Sign Language 101

Wednesday, September 21 at 2:00 pm
Presentation Hall
School of Communication and Media

High School Students from Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Curious about ASL? Feed your passion, get encouragement, and get engaged as you interact with an expert teacher in a live, in-person class.

Professor Jennifer Perlis
Instructional Specialist, Linguistics

Professor Jennifer Perlis

Jennifer Perlis, instructional specialist and ASL program coordinator at Montclair State University, received an MA in Teaching American Sign Language (ASL) from the Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Perlis was instrumental in forming the minor in ASL Studies and the ASL interpreting program. She serves as the academic advisor for the Montclair State ASL Club and teaches both level 1 and level 2 ASL courses.

60 min. + Q&A
Available to all audience members. Entry is free, but a ticket must be claimed. At the time of your purchase for Prince Hamlet, a pop-up will appear in your cart asking if you want to add the ASL class. Questions? 973-655-5112



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September 24, 2022 | Peak Performances’ ‘Prince Hamlet’ puts American Sign Language front and center

Placing emphasis on serving the hard of hearing and performed by a gender-bent, inclusive cast, Why Not Theatre’s production of “Prince Hamlet” — currently being presented by the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University — speaks volumes on embracing the beauty of American Sign Language.

Perspective: Prince Hamlet
Words by Ellen Bakalian

performers onstage

On April 2nd, 2020, I had one ticket to see Kate Soper’s “Romance of the Rose” at the Kasser. Although I didn’t have a companion to go with, it didn’t matter in the least. I wasn’t going to miss a performance of this influential 13th-century work, and frankly, I was blown away that the Kasser found Soper and was bringing her to Montclair. Unfortunately, as you well remember, the pandemic hit, and the Kasser closed.

It’s time to go back.

Thursday night I saw the Why Not Theatre’s bilingual retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I’ve never seen a production quite like it. Adapted and directed by Ravi Jain, with an American Sign Language and visual translation by Dawn Jani Birley, Prince Hamlet interweaves Shakespeare’s spoken text with ASL. This is a riveting and fast-paced play for both hearing and Deaf audiences. You’re not going to easily find this kind of production in Manhattan, but the Kasser has on stage this weekend.

The play begins with the actors introducing themselves in an inclusive lighthearted manner, and then the stage is empty, but for the guards and Horatio who stand on the ramparts of the Castle Elsinore.

Although the stage is stark, the audience is immediately drawn in, captivated by the energy of the actors and an eerie musical score. All spoken words are signed, but not all the ASL language is translated. I found myself listening on the edge of my seat, even when I could not hear any spoken words.

The cast delivers their lines quickly and with great passion. After two years or more of no theatre, it is absolutely delightful to hear Shakespeare’s words on stage, yet the visuality of this production is what makes it truly captivating. The Deaf actor Dawn Jani Birley is magnificent as Horatio. This writer does not know Sign, but Jani Birley’s visual acting is energetic and superb. Hamlet, played by Eli Pauley with a touch of whimsy, holds our attention: her Hamlet is clearly pulling the strings. Dante Jemmott as Laertes, and Andrew Musselman as the usurper Claudius, are also powerful presences on the stage.

The text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet refers often to speaking and hearing, and Jain’s use of these lines caught my ear. How interesting it was to realize that while I was trying to figure out what was going on on the stage, Hamlet himself was also trying to unpuzzle.

Audience members who are not familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet might have some trouble keeping up with the full plot, but Hamlet’s exploration of what he finds when he returns home from college – his father’s sudden death and his mother’s “o’erhasty marriage” (II.ii.57) – is clear: his throne has been stolen. The prince’s machinations to avenge, whether mad or sane, are left for the audience to determine.

As the Bard writes, “no tongue [can]…speak the horror” of Hamlet. The Why Not Theatre proves that the spoken word and hearing are not always needed. There are only two more productions of this play, so get thee there!


Ellen Bakalian, PhD, is an adjunct at Montclair State University. She teaches Mythology – and how to write an essay. With her daughters almost grown, she is finally working on her book, and far too many projects. Her work has been published by The Atlantic.



Reel Abilities Film     Kessler Foundation


This season is made possible in part by the Alexander Kasser Theater Endowment Fund, PEAK Patrons, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

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