Casey Johnson-Pasqua helps maintain Gallaudet Theatre's tradition of excellence

July 05, 2017

Author: Phil Dignan

Casey Johnson-Pasqua, wearing a black blouse, extends right arm while showing the ILY sign. White wall behind her has various colors of heart-saphed paintings.

Gallaudet University's theatre program has helped launch the careers of nationally, and internationally, known actors that have provided positive social change and leadership, and are constantly knocking down barriers and opening up opportunities for deaf actors.

Add Casey Johnson-Pasqua to the list.

Following a recommendation from Willy Conley, a professor of drama at Gallaudet, Johnson-Pasqua was hired to perform in a reading of Lacey Alexander's "Bits and Pieces" at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The short play, one of the four finalists for the Gary Garrison National Ten-Minute Play Award, was performed at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage on April 19, 2017.

Johnson-Pasqua was casted as Miley, a deaf woman struggling to catch everything that is revolving around her. In place of performing with costumes and months of rehearsals, she and the other cast members performed stage readings, and discussed character relationships and backstories before going into rehearsal and stage blocking, all in one day.

"It was enthralling to see how a group of actors who met each other for the first time working together for a day to put on a successful performance," said Johnson-Pasqua. "I was able to share my experience as a deaf person with the other actors, educating them about the deaf community and helping them understand the story better."

Currently a senior at Gallaudet University, Johnson-Pasqua is an honors student who is double majoring in theatre arts and English.
She was born and raised in Washington State, and graduated from Edmonds-Woodway High School. She discovered her love for theater in fifth grade and has been involved in productions throughout middle school and high school.

"Growing up with ASL as my primary language, I love telling stories through my hands and my facial expressions," Johnson-Pasqua said. "My parents saw this in me and thought theatre would be the best place for me to express myself."

She ended up auditioning for a community theatre's production of Music Man and getting the role of Amaryllis.

"It was an interesting journey for me, navigating the theatre world as a deaf person," said Johnson-Pasqua. I relied on interpreters for communication, I worked with other actors to help me with cues, and I learned the songs and my lines, making sure I was following the tempo. It was lot of work, but I enjoyed every single minute of it. This experience made me find my passion for theatre. I love the possibilities of being anyone on the stage and I have the ability to tell a story.

"I knew I belonged on the stage."

In her three years at Gallaudet, Johnson-Pasqua has been involved in four productions: Doctor Faustus (spring 2015) as the Good Angel and ensemble; Julius Caesar (fall 2015), as Portia, Pindarus, and ensemble; Midsummer Night's Dream (fall 2016) as Helena; and Bunnicula (spring 2017) as assistant light designer.

Johnson-Pasqua credits Ethan Sinnott, Theater Arts director and associate professor, and the deaf theater community as major influences.

"Since the first day I took his class in my freshman year, he saw the potential in me and has pushed me to put my potential to the best use," Johnson-Pasqua said. "With his encouragement and support, I am becoming a better actor. I do look up to him as my role model."

Sinnott sees Johnson-Pasqua as an exemplary student of theater.

"Her devotion to theatre is not solely an appreciation of it as a medium of creative expression, but a recognition of its power as a vehicle capable of affecting social change, one which possesses the capability of challenging traditional attitudes and perceptions by the mainstream of deaf people," said Sinnott. "She is one of the most passionate students ever to come through our program, one demonstrating gusto and skill for acting as well as an ethos for going above and beyond expectations. She is a savvy, versatile actor whose onstage presence is noticeable.

"I'm quite bullish on her upside."

Johnson-Pasqua made her impression on others before coming to Gallaudet. At age 16, she, in support of the Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Service, was chosen to serve as stage manager for a production of The Vagina Monologues, an "eye-opening experience" for her.

"As the youngest of all of the women involved in the production, most were skeptical about my ability as the stage manager and to handle the play's heavy topics. Within three months, however, I helped with the translations, character development, and going through lines and blockings with each actor. I also stepped in and figured out how to do the lighting for the performance, figuring out the light board for the very first time. At the end, instead of receiving skeptical looks, I was appreciated for my guidance. Being the youngest and serving as stage manager for the first time, I was proud of what I learned and accomplished in a short period of time."

For her honors capstone, Johnson-Pasqua will stage the ancient Greek tragedy, Medea by Euripides, for a 21st century deaf audience. She will research the three areas of staging: the translation process, the adaptability for the deaf audience, and a production history incorporating critiques of past deaf and ASL stagings.

"All my research will be a synthesis into a final adaptation production of the auditory based tragedy for the visually deaf audience," said Johnson-Pasqua, who plans to stage the play in the spring of 2018.

After completing her undergraduate studies, Johnson-Pasqua wants to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts and find a job in a theatre company as a professional actor. She dreams of performing on the Broadway stage.

"Gallaudet has pushed me out of my comfort zone, experiencing new things, pushing myself beyond the limits instead of limiting myself," said Johnson-Pasqua. "Instead of falling back into what I am familiar with, I am putting myself out there and trying new things.

"Gallaudet has empowered me by showing that my deafness is not a barrier at all-instead it sets me apart from hearing actors. I identify myself as a deaf actor, and I aspire to break through barriers in the theatre world."