Creating a character on stage is a very personal act of transformation, which makes the double casting of Spring Awakening so unusual. Sandra Mae Frank gives a blazing performance as Wendla in Deaf West’s acclaimed Broadway revival, but because Frank is deaf, she shares the role with Katie Boeck, a soulful singer, actress and musician who becomes the voice of the young heroine. In a lively pre-show conversation (with Frank’s mile-a-minute signing voiced by an ASL interpreter), the co-stars reflected on their singular bond and joy of making their Broadway debuts.
Q: First things first: What’s it like to play the same character simultaneously?
KATIE: Initially, I thought I would just be standing in the band, speaking and observing, but Sandy and I developed a strong emotional connection. I feel like I am playing her conscience, exploring the subtext of the character.
SANDRA: As a deaf actor, I’d rather have a voice actor sit in back and not be seen. In my experience, voice actors try to steal the stage and the focus goes to them, but Katie doesn’t do that. She is amazing, and [director] Michael Arden brought a brilliant vision of having us be together without it getting weird.
KATIE: It’s an interesting acting exercise, because she’s making a lot of the character’s choices for me. I’m following her.
SANDRA: And our chemistry was instant. We automatically knew how to work together and find the moments we should connect on stage. And I need her! She’s my thinking; she’s my information. She’s who is talking.
KATIE: I get to be inside her mind, and on top of that, I get to play guitar and do all the things I love to do. I feel really lucky.
Q: When you met, did you think, “We look nothing alike. Why have they put us together?”
SANDRA: Absolutely. Look how tall and blonde she is!
KATIE: I thought, this girl is sassy! I’m a little quieter. But it works better this way. Visually, people do not think we’re sisters. [As Wendla] Sandy is living in the real world, and I am her guardian angel.
Q: Each of you is tackling a unique challenge in this show. Sandra, how do you experience the music on stage?
SANDRA: First of all, I love musicals. I’m completely deaf, but I grew up watching musicals on television, and I told my mother, “I’m going to do a musical one day.” Spring Awakening came along, and here I am! Experiencing the process with Katie made it easier because I rely on her breathing, especially when she is singing. Breath is my “thing” for acting, and it helps me find the beat. People in the show joke, “You’re not deaf because you’re so on beat.”
KATIE: Sometimes I forget that she’s deaf because she has such a remarkable sense of internal rhythm.
SANDRA: This is my first musical, but I can say for sure that it’s not going to be my last.
Q: Katie, how have you managed learning sign language? Are you fluent now?
KATIE: Oh, I’m definitely not fluent! I spend so much time playing the guitar that I didn’t get a lot of practice signing. Sign language totally terrified me at first because my personality is based on my voice, and there was no way for Sandy to know what that sounded like. But for some reason, even before I knew any sign language, she and I were natural communicators.
Q: How do you spend your days off?
KATIE: We’re off on Wednesdays, so we’ve been seeing a lot of theater. We just saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
SANDRA: I saw it twice!
KATIE: We saw Fun Home and Amazing Grace.
SANDRA: I saw Something Rotten!, and I loved it so much that I went back a second time without the captions. It was so funny that I understood everything without captions.
Q: What’s the best thing about making your Broadway debut?
SANDRA: We’ve created a family over the past year, and now I’m on Broadway with my family.
KATIE: When we first started, a lot of us [hearing actors] were like, “A musical with deaf people? Okaaay.” But I had been trying to make it in the music business for nine years, and I thought, “Well, this is a job.” Right away, we knew we had a special show. Seeing the effect on deaf audiences, on hearing audiences, has been amazing. And to share the story on a Broadway stage is incredibly rewarding.