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Endangered Species Theatre Project Finds Voice in Diverse Performances

By Colin McGuire

By the time she arrived in Frederick Christine Mosere had decades of theater experience behind her. But, by her own admission, she was far from done exploring where theater could reach. There were new horizons to conquer, she believed, new ways for her to learn and grow.

Enter Frederick’s vibrant deaf community. Hoping to stage a play featuring non-hearing actors, members of the community reached out to Mosere to help them find a play venue in her role as artistic director of the Endangered Species Theatre Project. Mosere’s outlook on performance would never be the same.

“It changed how I saw what theater could be,” she explains. “They brought me in to act as a director and I was like, ‘This has to be our programming.’ Everything sold out; we had to turn people away. From there, our goal now is to have at least one deaf/hearing youth production every year.”

The youth for that initial production featured both deaf and hearing actors who came together for a rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk. Each character in the play had a pet, which meant half of the pair would sign throughout the performance while the other would speak. The kids largely decided what they wanted to be and the result was enough to reinvigorate Mosere’s passion for theater.

“It was how I came to the magic of this theater,” she notes. “The kids wanted to do it again and the audience wanted to see it again. I was incredibly moved by the process and how many kids that wanted to understand each other’s culture. One of the things the deaf community said they wanted was for others to learn their culture. That happens when you spend time together for weeks. You can’t help but learn signs. All of it gave me the desire to want to keep doing this kind of programming.”

Mosere and Endangered Species aren’t new to exploring unconventional programming. The program initially began as a group of friends gathered to fill a need for actors—more specifically actors over the age of 45. The goal was to focus on as much diverse representation as possible while also giving life to forgotten plays and playwrights. Plus, as the group’s website states, Endangered Species pledged to hire at least 50 percent women while being as inclusive as possible.

Which is why the Inte-GREAT youth program is so vital for the troupe. Not only does it spotlight aspiring actors, but it also gives a stage for those who may not have the opportunity to perform elsewhere. Being a witness to the effect the program can have on kids has only made the job that much more rewarding, says Deanna Kinzie, a director and leader for Inte-GREAT.

“I see some kids who might have a stressful day, but then they come to the theater and they have fun,” Kinzie says. “And then I see them make good friends that they wouldn’t have made if they weren’t involved in theater. I think this is a great way to help teens and it’s such a wonderful thing to do.”

Kinzie relays a story about a student who had a prominent role in a recent production, but she didn’t have a lot of confidence going into opening night. Kinzie says the student repeatedly told her and the crew that she thought they made the wrong choice in giving her the part. Despite the student’s reluctance, Kinzie encouraged her by reminding her that they indeed did make the correct decision in casting her.

“She did so well with it,” Kinzie says as she reflects on the student’s performance. “After it was all over, she came up to me and thanked me for believing in her. We know how important this is for teens and how it can help get them through when they need it.”

Kinzie’s story is just one of many that has made Inte-GREAT an imperative initiative for Endangered Species as it continues to grow. Keeping it alive doesn’t come without its challenges, however, as interpreter services can be costly. There were times when the group had to hire as many as 10 interpreters for just one production, a fee that can add up quickly.

So far, Endangered Species has been able to secure grant money to help offset some of the expenses, but Mosere acknowledged how hard it can be to keep the momentum moving in the right direction. Staging productions at Hood College and Sky Stage, to name a couple venues, has helped, but she is adamant that the project survives on a tight budget.

And that survival is paramount for the evolution of those throughout the Frederick area who want to be involved in theater. Dale Dowling is a member of the Endangered Species board and says she believes the group’s team of teachers is at the center of both the theater and the children’s success.

“I think the people we hire to work with the youth do a really great job,” she says. “I’m so impressed with what they do and what they’re able to achieve with the children. They don’t patronize them and they really are able to get the best out of the students they work with.”

She adds, “It’s very important to support the deaf community. I’m very proud of the way Frederick supports the deaf community. A deaf interpreter is like an actor. They shadow the actor and they are very much an artist. They are a species unto themselves, and they are absolutely extraordinary. It’s something that just hadn’t been seen in Frederick before. It’s an extraordinary art form.”

That art form was on display at the end of October at Sky Stage as Endangered Species staged three nights of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost. From there, an improv sketch comedy spoof of A Christmas Carol is on the docket for mid-December at New Spire Arts. Then, if all goes according to plan, the group is set to take the New Spire Arts stage again in April to perform The Awakening, a production adapted from a Kate Chopping novel.

As for Inte-GREAT, Mosere is optimistic the kids will take the stage sometime in 2023, be it at New Spire, Hood College or anywhere else that might house them. Even so, and no matter the specifics, one thing is certain: The decision to dive into such a program continues to allow Mosere to see the world of theater through a lens she previously had never even known existed.

“The kids are in it for the joy,” she says glowingly. “There’s nothing more inspiring than being around the kids. They become best friends with everybody right away and you can see them have an amazing bonding experience.

“They’ll just say something,” she concludes with enthusiasm, “and it will make you go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. This is what theater’s about.’”

Frederick Magazine