Interview conducted by Donna Ellis and Brian Morrison (HandsUp) on June 29, 2020.
Garrett Zuercher is a veteran of stage and screen and a proud member of Actors’ Equity, SAG-AFTRA, and the Dramatists Guild, Garrett is also one of the founders of Deaf Broadway. After his big break as Huckleberry Finn, the lead in Deaf West’s Broadway production of BIG RIVER, Garrett has most notably been seen on film in a featured role in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck alongside Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams and was both murdered and a murderer on television. An avid writer and director as well, his play QUID PRO QUO was produced at the Kennedy Center and won him national playwriting awards. His short film, The Witnesses, won the 2020 Seattle Deaf Film Festival competition while Flirting, with Possibilities, which Garrett wrote and directed and also stars in alongside several other Broadway actors, is currently in post-production for release. A magna cum laude graduate of the theater and writing programs at Marquette University in Milwaukee, he is currently working towards his MFA in playwriting at Hunter College. Dedicated to bringing authentic Deaf voices to the mainstream, he continues to fight for awareness and representation. To learn more, please visit garrettzuercher.com and deafbroadway.com.
Donna Ellis, MFA, CI, CT, SC:L was introduced to the world of interpreting during her 10 years as an Equity actor in New York City. After working and performing with both Deaf and Hearing actors, Donna went on to become a freelance interpreter throughout the New York City area, as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, in a variety of settings. She has been involved in the field of interpreting for over 30 years and specializes in legal interpreting as well as theatrical interpreting.
In addition to freelancing, she is in partnership with Brian Morrison as co-owner of Hands UP Productions. Together they provide accessible, high quality interpreted theatre throughout the Philadelphia region. Her theatrical interpreting experience includes more than a hundred Broadway tours, regional productions and exploratory performance pieces. She has trained interpreters in theatrical interpretation throughout the Philadelphia region.
Donna has been seen interpreting at the Kimmel Center/Academy of Music, Arden Theatre, Merriam Theatre, Walnut Street theatre as well as numerous other venues in the tri-state area. She makes her home in Sicklerville, NJ with her husband and two sons.
Brian Morrison, M.Ed, CI, CT, is currently an assistant professor and program coordinator of the ASL/English Interpreting program at the Community College of Philadelphia. He received his Master's of Education from Northeastern University and has been teaching for 18 years. He earned his bachelor's degree in Education of the Deaf and has been involved in the profession for over 25 years.
He is a past president of CIT having served four years in that position. Prior to his two terms as president, he served four years on the board in positions including Director of Public Relations and Outreach and vice-president. He is currently serving as a commissioner on the Commission for Collegiate Interpreter Education, an accreditation body for interpreter education programs.
In addition to teaching, he specializes in theatrical interpreting and is the co-owner, along with Donna Ellis, of Hands UP Productions, a theatrical interpreting company serving the greater Philadelphia area. He has interpreted over one hundred plays and musicals from Broadway tours to regional productions to readings of new works. He has trained interpreters in theatrical interpreting both nationally and internationally. Currently, Brian lives with his husband and their amazing dog in Philadelphia.
Hi, I'm Donna Ellis.
Hi, I'm Brian Morrison.
We are from Hands UP Productions. We'd like to introduce Garrett Zuercher. Can you tell us a little bit about your yourself, Garrett?
Hello! My name is Garrett. I am based in NYC and have lived here for the past fifteen years. I'm a professional writer, actor, director, consultant... a jack of all trades you might say. I definitely wear many hats! I was born and raised in Wisconsin. Yes, I'm a country boy! I was born deaf and grew up using both American Sign Language (ASL) and speech/lipreading. I was mainstreamed in the public schools and have always loved theater. In college, I had two majors. The first was in writing. This was a general writing major, not for theater specifically. The second major was, of course, theater.
I was very fortunate that right after I graduated, I joined the national tour of Deaf West Theatre's production of Big River. I was the lead role playing Huck Finn. The actor that originated the role, Tyrone Giordano was fortunate to get another job that led to him leaving the show. He left to film the movie, The Family Stone. I was the lucky one that replaced him in that role. It was such a fun experience touring all over the country, and Japan as well!
After that show closed in 2005, I moved to NYC and never looked back! I've worked in a number of fields during my time here. In the Fall, I will be starting my Master's in Playwriting at Hunter College here in NYC. I'm very excited about that!
Wow... wonderful story! Thanks so much! And thank you for joining us!
Thanks for having me!
I'm [going to] jump right in with the first question about the impact of COVID-19. Describe a typical day in your life before COVID-19 compared to your day now. What has changed?
Related to theatre work or in general?
Right now, I just go to the grocery store and with masks, I don't know if people are talking with me. Sometimes I'll notice a person looking at me and I'm wondering if they are talking to me or not? I don't know because I can't see their mouth. It's really frustrating.
Just your everyday life. How does that look now?
As for my "regular" job, I am a freelance ASL teacher. Before COVID, I would get up every day, get ready, and head out to do my teaching. It was a lot of coming and going to various places. Now, I just stay home. It's funny, yesterday I went to the park with my dog. We were gone for about three or four hours and a thought hit me. That was the longest that I've been away from the house since March! Of course, I go to the grocery store or do some smaller errands in my neighborhood. But I haven't really gone any kind of distance away from home. I haven't been on the subway since March 13th, so it's been awhile. I've become somewhat of a hermit. My dog is thrilled with that though! But really, all theater opportunities have just disappeared. I had done some auditions and some small projects fairly consistently, but then everything was just gone. Theater closed down. Broadway closed down. Everything closed down. As I'm sure you know. But we did find other ways to keep involved with theater. I'm not sure if you want me to mention that now, or wait until later?
Let's hold that for now. We will make sure that we discuss that in a bit.
Sure. No problem.
Before the pandemic, you used the subway, right?
Oh yes. Everyday.
Now how do you get around?
What do you mean how?
Do you take the bus, walk, drive...
I just don't travel at all.
You just stay home? That's it?
In 2003, Donna Ellis and Brian Morrison met for the first time in Philadelphia while interpreting the Broadway hit, Chicago at the Merriam Theatre. In 2007, with countless partnered productions under their belts, they embarked on a new adventure, Hands UP Productions. 13 seasons later, they have provided accessible, high quality interpreted theatre for the Deaf community throughout the Philadelphia region. Their combined theatrical interpreting experience includes hundreds of Broadway tours, regional productions and exploratory performance pieces.
This project was made possible with generous support from the Independence Public Media Foundation.
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