Two choirs face each other on stage. The choir on the left “paints” the sounds that the choir on the right is producing. And the music comes alive. And the dynamics of the music come alive. The sign language choir and the singing choir complement each other in the inclusive musical project.
Fifty years after Jesus’ death, the disciples meet again to talk about everything they experienced together with Jesus. This fictional meeting was performed as a musical two thousand years later at the 2014 International Church Convention in Munich, Germany. The special thing about it is that the musical is accessible to everyone: those who can hear, those who are hard of hearing, and deaf people can follow the story and understand the songs.
Acting and other talents discovered
It all started in 2009 with an inclusive concert. The singing choir was accompanied by a choir using sign language. Or you could see it the other way round. Heike Riexinger, organiser of the deaf congregation in Southern Germany, recognised the potential of this congregation. After reviewing all the musicals, she decided to rewrite the musical Noch einmal Kapernaum (“Capernaum one more time”), originally written by Jürgen Werth, and translate it into sign language. The composer agreed.
And the congregation was thrilled. “This was a real community project. The hearing, the hard of hearing, and the deaf all worked together and sewed the costumes,” says Heike Riexinger. “The stage design and props, like the boat or fountain, were made by the brothers and sisters from our group.”
When hearing status does not matter
Fellowship was paramount already from the beginning. “Everyone was able to contribute their skills. A person’s hearing status did not really play a role,” says Heike Riexinger. This is also how the title came into being “Walking together”. So it is not only an indication that the disciples were walking together with Jesus, but also that the congregation of deaf and hard of hearing members walked a common path to the finished musical with many rehearsals along the way.
The signed musical, based on the musical by Jürgen Werth, was performed for the first time in 2011. The story is as follows: the disciples meet as old men and tell each other about the things they experienced with Christ. Stories, such as the calling of the disciples, are acted out in small theatre sequences or in sign poetry by the disciples, who look fifty years younger on stage..
Inclusion at the Church Convention
The audience was enthusiastic which gave rise to the idea to also perform the musical in sign language at the International Church Convention. With a project choir from two congregations in Southern Germany, the deaf and hard of hearing congregation created an inclusion project that would be accessible to all, because the signs that were performed on stage were translated into spoken language in the hall.
“We walk together” is the title of the first song, which sums up the theme of the musical. “It doesn’t matter where you come from,” sings the choir on the right, while the choir on the left contributes the signs and gestures. “Where you are going now matters much more.” “He is the way!” they say about Jesus. “Living with Him is far more important.”