Upon learning that Switched at Birth would be doing an episode told entirely through sign language this season, the show's hearing cast members weren't sure quite what was in store.
"My reaction was, 'Well, it looks like I'm not going to have a whole lot to do," Lucas Grabeel told TVGuide.com with a laugh. "I'm going to have some time off."
Added Vanessa Marano: "All I know is that the sound department is so happy."
Fans of the ABC Family drama are no strangers to the show's many ASL-scenes, which include subtitles for those who not fluent in signing. However, this will be the first episode of the show — not to mention the first in TV history — to feature ASL only. "I always thought would be a Season 8 thing when we're off the network's radar and to the network's credit, they were the ones that came to me and said, 'Let's do it now," creator and executive producer Lizzy Weiss says. "It's an experiment. We're all sort of figuring it out as we go."
The episode, set to air on March 4, will reportedly be told from the perspectives of the show's many deaf characters, which is why hearing characters will be seen but not heard. "The writers and I were challenged to think in a more visual way because we didn't want it to just be a regular episode with a lot of captions, so the script even looks different," Weiss says. "We're trying to show not only, 'Oh gee, it's really hard ... but, 'Hey, there are all these cool things that you can do in sign language that hearing people can't.' You can communicate across a theater privately and other little tricks. We're just having fun with it."
Now that Bay is attending the same deaf school as Daphne (Katie LeClerc) and Emmett (Sean Berdy), Weiss says the episode comes at a perfect time. "Something happens in this cycle because she's deaf that has a profound effect on her in a bad way," Weiss says. "When you're deaf, you have a lot of privileges, you have a community, you have a perspective on the world that is really unique being in a minority, but sometimes it also brings a lot of baggage with it. And this is a young woman who is dealing with this identity for the first time."
Weiss hopes this change in how Daphne grapples with her identity is also relatable to those outside of the deaf community, such as young people coming to terms with their ethnicities and/or gender. "Here you have this identity that is part of you and that you both love and understand, but when you're a teenager, you don't like it because it makes you different," she says. "These are very profound episodes for Daphne in terms of dealing with the complexities of her deaf identity."
This major shift in thinking comes just as Daphne is starting to become more independent, thanks to the taco food truck business she just started and her continued healing from her break-up with Chef Jeff (Justin Bruening). "Over the course of this season, Daphne regains her independence and figures out who she really is and who she wants to be," LeClerc says. "This new, evolving Daphne... is very proud to be deaf and very proud of her deaf culture and identifies much more with the deaf community than the hearing community than in the past."
Part of Daphne's struggle will also be coming to terms with how she was raised as a deaf person versus her good friend/possible love interest Travis (Ryan Lane), who's hearing parents never learned to sign — a storyline LeClerc calls "very true" to life. "She really, really loves him and she's also a little bit afraid of him because the world that Ryan lives in is very different from the world that Daphne lives in," she says. "He has a ton of anger and he's been victimized and been made to feel small. Daphne's family [raised] her and said that you are not different and you are absolutely capable of anything the world throws at you. That's the difference in the two of them,
"I think Daphne feels like she's got a great friend in him and she wants to take him and bring him to the place that she is at," she continues. "Since that isn't so easy, she's pretty hesitant to jump into a relationship."
Switched at Birth airs on Mondays at 8/7c on ABC Family. Are you excited for the all-ASL episode? Do you want Daphne and Travis to get together?