Ed Waterstreet (1993)

Since Children of a Lesser God there have been more opportunities for Deaf actors in the theater. Hearing people are now aware that there are such things as Deaf professional actors. The attitude at auditions used to be, “A Deaf actor, what is that?” It is now more like, “Okay, he’s Deaf.” In general, there has been a change in attitude towards Deaf people in the U.S. as well. Sign language is being taught in universities now and there is a fascination with Deaf culture through the language.

I can’t really say there have been great strides for Deaf directors in the last ten years, however. In fact, very little has changed. There are very few Deaf theaters in the country and in the hearing professional theater there are really no openings at all. I don’t quite know why. It has to do with the business of it, with timing, with knowing the right roads to take to get work, and with communication problems — though there are always those problems. I do feel there is some resistance to the idea.

Possibilities in film and television are much more restricted than in theater. They’re still hiring hearing actors for Deaf roles for TV and movies after all! There is more of a willingness for people in Hollywood to listen to the Deaf community now, but bottom line, they hire non-Deaf people. There are one or two Deaf directors who would love to try working in those media — as I would — but it is much harder. Because of the money involved, the technical elements, and, again, communication problems.

It is hard to find directors. I can only think of five or six Deaf directors off the top of my head — people who are trained, who are professional — and they are located all over the country. We have had that problem at DeafWest, my theater in Los Angeles. For our productions so far we have had two Deaf directors and two hearing directors. We also have problems on the other side: finding skilled hearing directors who are familiar with Deaf culture. It’s a balancing act. Since we had success with Shirley Valentine, many hearing directors want to direct for us, but we can’t spend our time educating them.

For the future, I would like to establish a training program for Deaf directors at DeafWest. Even more, there is a need to develop Deaf playwrights. We don’t have any. Dot Miles was one, but she recently passed away. There is also a need for more Deaf regional theater, so we can share our work and learn from each other. We are taking steps towards that. This summer, the first convention of Deaf theaters will be held in Baltimore, sponsored by the Department of Education.

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