Thoughts From A Hard Of Hearing Performer: should only deaf actors play deaf roles

The following is a series of responses I have made on social media the past few days concerning the controversy of Theatre Cedar Rapids production of Tribes.   Here is the theater’s official response to the concerns of the deaf community about a hearing actor being cast in the role of “billy”.  The rest are my own thoughts on the subject:

 

“No theater company anywhere is going to stop production 4 weeks before it opens. Flyers have been printed, tickets have been sold, costumes have been made, and sets have been built. This group is for Professional Performers! Everyone should know this! Also, just because an actor is deaf does not automatically make him/her right for a certain role. That is just ridiculous!
Actors are called on to stretch themselves in many ways to play roles. No one bats an eye at a non blind/deaf actor playing Hellen Keller. This idea that a hearing actor MUST NEVER play any deaf role is insane. Should a non-paraplegic be allowed to do a production of My Left Foot?

How many small theater groups are there tucked away in rural communities all across the country? Almost ALL of them are UNPAID, puting in their own time, effort, and talent.
Pick the battles! No one wins by throwing temper tantrums on social media, then not showing up for the production to meet with the theater producers to have a real conversation that can make positive changes for everyone.
You want more deaf actors in these roles, that is the best place to start!”

” I have seen the audition process from the inside.

Many people are saying, “we need to show Hollywood” well, NO, this has absolutely nothing to do with Hollywood. No one in Hollywood will ever even know anything about this. The local theaters have no effect what so ever on Hollywood.

Others are saying, “They should stop the production and re-cast the role with a deaf actor.” There is no way that will ever happen. To do that at this point could literally bankrupt a small theater company like this. As I said before, tickets have been sold. Costumes have been made. These people are puting in their own time for the love of theater. The director thought it was an important story to tell; that this deaf character was powerful enough to showcase. Casting was done in June. Now, the week of the show opening this video pops up DEMANDING the stop the production, RE-CAST the role with a DEAF actor, and they flush all the money and time they have already spent on the production right down the drain. Then, they should reprint new play bills, start rehearsals ALL OVER AGAIN, make new costumes, REFUND all the tickets that have been sold, and CANCEL the production of the play that they had spent time, effort, and money to put on for Next Month.

(Note: I was wrong. The opening date of Tribes is October 21)

What message does that send to the board and theater producers. They would see it as being bullied into closing down their show. Then, they will NEVER do a play with a deaf character again. Then, no one wins. How will they react to the next deaf/hard of hearing actor that walks in?”

 

“I see this differently. I would be just as offended if a deaf/hard of hearing actor had gone to the audition and they chose a hearing actor. I am not offended by them because they contacted the deaf group before the auditions. They WANTED a deaf actor. No one showed up. Now, after all this time, people want them to just throw away all the time, effort, and money right out the window. I see them as doing everything they could have. I also see people being unfair to them. People are getting nasty with them. People are leaving bad reviews on their facebook!

This makes it just that much harder for the next deaf/hard of hearing actor. This is not helping, it is HURTING those out there trying open doors. This video is inflammatory. That reflects on all of us.

 

I am a 5 foot, 260 lb, 44 year old woman with multiple disabilities. Had I shown up for the audition, I would still not be offended if I had not gotten the part. Just because I am Hard of Hearing does not make me right for a part of a young boy of slender build. It would be different if they turned down someone that was right for it. But they didn’t do that.

Also, this was a local casting call. They don’t EVER do national casting calls. Some people have said, “well, they should have asked Deaf West”. That is ridiculous. They would have to pay that actor, fly them out here, and provide lodging. This is a voluntary production.”

 

 

“I am a performer. I am out there like every hearing performer day after day, year after year. I am  only 2 hours from Cedar Rapids. I know this area pretty well. I am not someone from across the country that is looking from the outside and saying, “they should have done THIS…. ” or “They need to do THAT…” No, I am from right here, and I am not mad at them. Like I said before, I am not the right physical type to play this character. I am too old and the wrong body type. Even if I had auditioned, I would still not be mad for not getting the part. I am not right to play a young boy. I know that just because I am Hard of Hearing does not mean I should have automatically gotten the part just because I am the only deaf person to walk through the door. NO ! Now, had I been given the part of, say, his mother; I would be overjoyed and done the absolute best I had in me to perform that role.

That being said, I didn’t audition for this show. No other deaf/hard of hearing person did either. They chose from those actors they had to choose from and they pick the person that they thought would bring this role to life. I have never seen this play. I have no idea how accurate the deaf character is. I cannot speak to that, and I will not. I do think there needs to be more diversity in many platforms, whether theater or film.”

Upon discussion with other performers and looking closer at how the theater reached out to the deaf community, I do see how they could have done more to involve the deaf community to find find a deaf actor for this role.  One email to a national or regional deaf organization is not enough to say “We tried”. I see that point.

 

UPDATE

 

Theatre Cedar Rapids to postpone production of Tribes

 

 

 

 

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