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Deaf West's Ed Waterstreet retires; new artistic director named

March 2, 2012 | 10:20 am

Deaf West
Deaf West Theatre is announcing Friday the retirement of its pioneering founder, Ed Waterstreet, and the appointment of his successor as artistic director, David J. Kurs.

During Waterstreet's two-decade tenure, Deaf West gained acclaim for its commitment to expanding opportunities for deaf artists and for developing a new kind of theater in which non-hearing and hearing performers express themselves through a combination of American Sign Language, spoken language and movement.

Since its founding in 1991, the company has gone from a borrowed space at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood to its own home in North Hollywood. It has staged 40 plays and four musicals, including a revival of the '80s Broadway show "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" that went from North Hollywood to the Mark Taper Forum in 2002 and to New York in 2003, earning two Tony nominations and a Tony honor for excellence in theater.

Waterstreet, 68, tells Culture Monster that his experiences at Deaf West represent "a wild and crazy dream that came true. To be honest, I never expected the success that came out of 'Big River.' I still can't believe it today."

He also is proud of what he calls the "ripple effect" -- the opportunities Deaf West has opened up for deaf actors, not only onstage but in film and television.

Waterstreet says he decided to leave the artistic director's post at the end of last year but didn't officially retire until a successor was named. "The theater is still my baby," he adds, and he plans to help with fundraising because "money is our biggest challenge."

Before starting Deaf West, Waterstreet graduated from Gallaudet University and was a member of the National Theatre of the Deaf for 12 years. His Hollywood acting credits include the Emmy-winning 1985 drama "Love Is Never Silent." 

Kurs, 34, was Deaf West's artistic associate and has served as associate producer and ASL master. He also graduated from Gallaudet and has worked as a writer and a producer of documentary, commercial and theatrical projects.

In his new job, Kurs says his immediate priority is to seek additional funding to strengthen programming. He also plans on "continuing the Deaf West vision, bridging the deaf and hearing worlds."

Kurs already is working on his first show as artistic director: the April world premiere of "Cyrano," a Deaf West-Fountain co-production of Stephen Sachs' modern-day sign-and-spoken-language retelling of Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac."


Review: "Pippin" at the Mark Taper Forum

'Beauty Wakes' to a new day

'River''s appeal keeps flowing along

-- Karen Wada

Photos: Left, Ed Waterstreet. Credit: From Deaf West Theatre. Right, David J. Kurs. Credit: Tate Tullier.