The 16th-century classic tragedy, Doctor Faustus, tells the story of a man who makes a deal with the devil Mephistopheles — but what did the devil do next?
By Cory Schachtel | February 2, 2023
Connor Yuzwenko-Martin remembers his first time performing on stage, in an after-grade-school drama class, even though he couldn’t hear a thing. “It was a mime show, so it was silent. And we were just sort of gesturing and figuring out what we were doing. We thought we would try miming first to see how that developed. That was my first real experience with the structure of theatre and drama,” he says, speaking through an interpreter.
Yuzwenko-Martin is Deaf and, like 90 per cent of Deaf people, was born to hearing parents. A shockingly high number of those parents never learn to sign, instead relying on technology and their child’s ability to lip read to communicate. But Yuzwenko-Martin’s parents “are independent thinkers, they’re doers.” They researched and learned to sign and “I’m really lucky for that. It was a major factor for me to be involved in drama, and advocate for my needs,” especially in an era when his needs were just barely addressed.
“There was an improv group at my high school, and it was my first year, so I was just watching it. But the interpreter couldn’t work with me during lunch. They needed a break, but there was no team. And the principal didn’t understand that. They were like, ‘Why can’t you just continue for the whole day? It’s just improv — just make it up.’ As a kid, how am I supposed to advocate for myself in that situation?”
Today, Yuzwenko-Martin is making a lot of noise advocating for his community in the local theatre scene, promoting Sound Off: A Deaf Theatre Festival, working with theatre-curious kids at the Alberta School for the Deaf, and with his new show at the Fringe Theatre Arts Barns, After Faust.
The 16th-century classic tragedy, Doctor Faustus, tells the story of a man (Faustus) who makes a deal with the devil Mephistopheles that (SPOILER) ends with his spiritual damnation. But what did Mephistopheles get up to next? That’s the question Yuzwenko-Martin — and his all-Deaf cast — answer in After Faust, an ASL-performed (with captioning) play that explores the “choices that lay along the path of forgiveness and self-transformation.”
Written in classical Shakespearean English, Doctor Faustus can be tough for high school students to understand, and for school interpreters of Yuzwenko-Martin’s day to translate into visually intelligible ASL. Despite that, he “obsessed over it” and turned out a one-act version with drama peers during the school’s annual autumn festival. “I suspect that at the time, newly identifying myself as gay, I was desperate for queer role models and stories that could reflect my inner world. The agony of Doctor Faustus and the intellectual malice of Mephistopheles struck some deeply buried lodestones in my psyche, and I don’t think they ever quite stopped resonating. Imagine my surprise and delight when I did further research in 2021 and discovered that the playwright, Christopher Marlowe, was almost certainly ‘gay or queer’ — as far as those modern terms can apply to his era.”
Yuzwenko-Martin says After Faust is a heavy work that drives head on into the aspects of grief that can be frightening to discuss, “yet it has a sweetness and completeness that I hope provides some solace and healing for everyone. When you see your own dark future, it becomes much easier to find the better path for yourself.”
The playwright is quick to point out that a work of this kind is rare, but not unheard of in Alberta — “There have been fantastic Deaf-led productions in the past, such as Children of a Lesser Light, The Vagina Monologues, and the annual community theatre at the Alberta School for the Deaf” — but the gaps in between productions have been far too big. And while he’ll continue working tirelessly to create opportunities for artists like him, those opportunities will be wasted without the support of the community at large. “There aren’t enough Deaf people to fill up the seats in the theatre — we need the hearing people to come out and see it, too!”
See what happens After Faust until February 5 (performances on February 2 and 4 will feature live voice-over in spoken English).