An oversized 1960s-era teletypewriter (TTY) emits fog and flashes with green light that shines onto the walls of a set, which has transformed the stage into an old house in Salem, Mass. That spooky hue is the work of Lighting Designer Annie Wiegand in Autocorrect Thinks I’m Dead, a play that debuted in September at the Sound Theater Company in Seattle, Washington. “It’s green because back in the day, Deaf people called a TTY ‘the green monster,’” Wiegand says. “I didn’t even need to research it. That is a part of Deaf culture that I already knew.”

Her lived Deaf experience made the Gallaudet Associate Professor the ideal lighting designer for the new play, a horror comedy written by Deaf playwright Aimee Chou, that follows what happens when three Deaf roommates find strange messages from Alexander Graham Bell on an antique TTY. The production also tapped the talents of Scenic Designer Ethan Sinnott, director of Gallaudet’s Theatre and Dance program, making this the first professional theatrical production with Deaf individuals in both of those roles.

A man and woman sit next to each other, both looking at something happening to the right. Near them are cords, keyboards, and a lamp.
Ethan Sinnott and Annie Weigand at a Technical Rehearsal for Autocorrect Thinks I’m Dead at 12th Avenue Arts in Seattle, WA (Aaron Jin/courtesy of Sound Theatre Company). Top photo shows a scene from the play (Jason Tang/courtesy of Sound Theatre Company).

“It was so enjoyable to work on this play for a number of reasons,” Wiegand says. “It had a good script, many Deaf references, and I really enjoyed working with the director, Howie Seago. He is a role model for me.” Seago is an institution of Deaf theater and co-produced the Emmy-winning PBS children’s show Rainbow’s End.

Both Chou and Seago recruited Wiegand and Sinnott, as well as other leaders in the Deaf theater community. Having so much Deaf talent on stage and back stage helped tie everything together, and was integral to maintaining a respectful and accurate representation of Deafness.

To light the show, Wiegand used various techniques to further the eerie tone, and connect themes throughout the play. “When we think of horror we think about what we can see, so it was fun to play with that because we also needed to see the actors signing,” she says.

Wiegand and Sinnott worked on Autocorrect Thinks I’m Dead all summer before flying to Seattle for the production run, which coincided with the beginning of the school year. “It was tough to miss the first week of school,” Sinnott says. But no one needs to miss out in the future: He hopes to bring Autocorrect Thinks I’m Dead to Gallaudet next year in time for Halloween.

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