Deaf Everett actress, 16, stars in ACT’s ‘Sound’

SEATTLE — An actor has to understand the character she portrays, but she doesn’t have to agree with the character’s decisions.

Cheyenna Clearbrook, 16, of Everett, stars as a young deaf woman in the new Azeotrope play “Sound” at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. Deaf herself, she can empathize with her character Allison, a teen who is torn between her divorced parents over whether she should get cochlear implants, which could allow her to hear.

Allison’s deaf father, who is protective of his daughter’s participation in the close-knit deaf community, doesn’t want her to get the implants. He maintains there is nothing wrong with Allison.

The teen’s hearing mother wants her daughter to be able to communicate with spoken English as well as American Sign Language.

Allison, the character, wants the implants.

Cheyenna, the actor, does not.

“My family — my parents and my brother and sister — we’re all deaf, whereas Allison lives in both worlds,” said Cheyenna through an ASL interpreter at her family’s home earlier this week. “Allison has to convince her dad that she wants the cochlear implants. It’s a hot-button issue. I don’t want implants, so it was a challenge to come to Allison’s perspective.”

Cheyenna, a junior at Edmonds-Woodway High School, has enjoyed the past two months working with the rest of the cast, playwright Don Nguyen and directors Desdemona Chiang and Howie Seago.

Chiang is a founder of Azeotrope, a Seattle theater company that has partnered with ACT to produce “Sound.”

Seago is a well-known director and a veteran stage and TV actor. He is a company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he is its first deaf actor. His TV career includes appearances on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

It was Seago, who knows Cheyenna’s dad, who urged her to audition for “Sound.”

“It’s been really exciting to learn more about acting,” Cheyenna said. “I’ve always wanted to be an actress.”

A former model, Cheyenna has appeared previously in school plays and deaf community plays in Seattle.

“This is the big time, now,” she said with a smile.

“Sound” is set on Martha’s Vineyard, and the play includes the parallel (and alternating) story of Alexander Graham Bell’s quest 130 years ago to “cure” deafness with his hearing aid invention. Bell had come to the island because of its high percentage of deaf residents. In fact, Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language played a role in the development of American Sign Language.

The stories highlight the struggle to find common ground in a world that separates deaf and hearing cultures, Cheyenna said.

“Deaf and hearing people can work together,” she said.

The production is bilingual, performed in American Sign Language and spoken English. Listening devices are available, a screen shows subtitles and Cheyanna is among the actors who have a “shadow” who speaks some of her lines.

When “Sound” rehearsals began in July, the script had to be massaged a bit, Cheyenna said.

“After the actors got involved, we realized that some of the lines didn’t match with the intent of the deaf characters,” she said. “It was great to be a part of that editing process, too. The play really is about valuing deaf culture.”

Cheyenna is earning praise and notice for her performance. And audience responses to “Sound” have been emotional, she said.

“It’s touching for the deaf audience. And some hearing audience members have cried. I think many people don’t realize the history of deaf culture in America. I hope the play brings a new understanding of the deaf perspective.”

Her teachers in the well-respected deaf program at Edmonds-Woodway gave the thumbs-up to Cheyenna’s participation in the play.

Now her career goal is to be involved in stage, TV and film.

“I would like to entertain the deaf community and also show hearing people that the deaf can do anything.”

Cheyenna may first attend her mother’s alma mater, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., which is the world’s top school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students who want to pursue a liberal arts education.

If not, she plans to head to Los Angeles. There, with the help of an agent, she hopes to follow her dreams, which include performing Shakespeare’s plays.

Her parents, Greg and Joanna Clearbrook, are supportive of the plan.

Joanna and Greg first met in a play for deaf audiences when they were children. Greg, now 47, went to work for Boeing right after graduating from Edmonds High School. Joanna, 45, an alum of Roosevelt High in Seattle, is an accountant.

“I want Cheyenna to break down the wall and be an actor,” Greg said. “The first time I saw ‘Sound,’ I could see her raw talent. She took to it so fast. You know how some hearing people say that Jim Carrey’s expressions are too much? Well, the deaf community loves Jim Carrey. And Cheyenna has great expressions, too.”

Joanna, who has been to most rehearsals and performances, agreed.

“The play has been a great opportunity for Cheyenna to learn about herself and build her confidence,” her mother said. “We also like the fact that the play helps to educate people to respect each other. I have two other deaf children who I still have to remind to be patient with hearing people.”

Her siblings LeAnna, 11, and Keelan, 13, go to Washington School for the Deaf in Vancouver.

“The play is a powerful one and the other kids enjoyed it, too,” Greg said. “Cheyenna is a role model for them.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; Twitter: @galefiege.

If you go

“Sound,” a new play by Don Nguyen, continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 4 at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle. Tickets are $30 general admission, $20 for seniors, $15 for students and $10 for teens and children 17 and younger. Call 206-292-7676 or go online to

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Photo by Gina Shields of GM Photography
Whidbey Island to salute the fallen for Memorial Day

All are invited to honor those who have fallen at three events on Whidbey Island.

Pet detective Jim Branson stops to poke through some fur that Raphael the dog found while searching on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Everett, Washington. Branson determined the fur in question was likely from a rabbit, and not a missing cat.(Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lost a pet? Pet detective James Branson and his dogs may be able to help

James Branson, founder of Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue, helps people in the Seattle area find their missing pets for $350.

2024 BMW i5
2024 BMW i5

BMW’s beloved 5 Series has been around for over 50 years. Now… Continue reading

The Solterra is Subaru’s first all-electric compact SUV. (Photo provided by Subaru)
2024 Subaru Solterra is updated with no increase in pricing

Improved charging ability, added EyeSight features and a new steering wheel are among the upgrades.

Anthony Brock performs at Artisans PNW during the first day of the Fisherman’s Village Music Fest on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At downtown Everett musical festival: ‘Be weird and dance with us’

In its first night, Fisherman’s Village brought together people who “might not normally be in the same room together” — with big acts still to come.

Whidbey Renaissance Faire volunteers pose in their costumes. (Photo by Bree Eaton)
Faire thee well: Renaissance is coming to Whidbey Island

The volunteer-run fair May 25 and 26 will feature dancers, a juggler, ‘Fakespeare,’ various live music shows and lots of food.

From a 17th-century warship to ABBA, Stockholm’s delights span the ages

The city — known for Nobel prizes, “Pippy Longstocking” and a very tall city hall — sits on 14 islands connected by 54 bridges.

A guitarist keeps rhythm during Lovely Color’s set on the opening night of Fisherman’s Village on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at Black Lab in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
No matter what music you’re into, Fisherman’s Village has a hook for you

From folk to psychedelic pop to hip-hop, here’s a quick guide to artists you might want to check out in downtown Everett.

Patterson Hood (left) and Mike Cooley perform with Drive-By Truckers at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in 2018. (Ben Flanagan /
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Take in the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival in downtown Everett and get a close-up look at unique aircraft at Paine Field.

On moving day for elderly mom, a moving reminder of what matters in life

Older adults don’t talk much about accomplishments during their working lives. Instead, they talk about the value of family.

Iberia told me to file a chargeback, but now I don’t have a ticket

When Joel Revill’s ticket purchase doesn’t go through, a representative advises him to dispute it on his credit card.

A child gets some assistance dancing during Narrow Tarot’s set on the opening night of Fisherman’s Village on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at Lucky Dime in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fisherman’s Village 2024 casts a wide musical net in Everett

From Allen Stone to a local musician showcase at Zamarama Gallery, get ready for it to get loud downtown.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.