Fiddler as a Message of Inclusion: The Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma City

In July 2016, Oklahoma City’s Lyric Theatre staged an innovative version of Fiddler on the Roof that integrated American Sign Language and a group of Deaf actors into the show. Experimenting with sound and movement, this production sought to make accessible the experience of musical theatre for an audience that would include both Deaf and hearing people.

In other productions of Fiddler, and indeed in Sholem Aleichem’s original Yiddish tales, the character of Perchik is often seen as the first harbinger of change, the one who introduces revolutionary ideas of women’s equality, workers’ rights, and the fragility of tradition to Teyve’s world. In the Lyric Theatre’s production, Perchik is Deaf and brings with him another set of challenges to the shtetl. Here he fights not only for equal rights on a broad scale, but also for the specific and full inclusion in society of Deaf people such as himself and, in this version, Teyve’s daughter Hodel as well. The themes we might see reflected in other productions of Fiddler about tolerance of the Other, the integration of Jews and minorities, and the limits of communal acceptance are thus expanded to include issues that Sholem Aleichem himself would have never considered.