In The Audition Room

When you are considering working on a project that involves Deaf and/or hard of hearing actors, there are several steps recommended to ensure a smooth and successful production process. This first section will provide steps for planning your film, theatrical piece of television program.

Now that you have decided to audition Deaf and hard of hearing actors, there are a number of issues that can arise.  The following section will attempt to address many, if not all of them.

In the Audition Room

The audition is certainly one of the more nerve-wracking experiences an actor mush endure to be successful.  Preparation is one of the keys to a successful audition for the actor, as well as those running the audition, especially if you are looking to audition Deaf or hard of hearing actors.  In order to prepare, the following are a few common questions and issues that are bound to come up.

How do I address the Deaf or hard of hearing actor with an interpreter present?

Throughout the audition, all information, suggestions or direction about the work should be directed to the Deaf or hard of hearing actors not to the interpreter.  A common mistake is to speak in the third person through the interpreter, saying “tell him…”  Speak directly to the actor and maintain direct eye contact with her/him.  The interpreter understands this etiquette and expects it.

Is it permissible to ask a Deaf or hard of hearing actor to speak?

The ability to speak or to lip read varies from one Deaf person to another.  Some estimates say that the best lip reader in the world can glean about 40% at best.  The ability to speak varies widely as well.  Some actors who are Deaf, speak well and use their speech routinely.  Other Deaf actors do not, and furthermore, may not be comfortable in using speech.  From Michael Kahn, Artistic Director, The Shakespeare Theatre:  “From my own experience working with Deaf actors, I found that not all Deaf actors read lips.  This was a revelation to me.”  Common sense dictates that the best approach is to treat each situation individually and with sensitivity.

If lip/speech reading or speaking is required in the script, the performer may be asked whether s/he has that ability and may be asked to demonstrate it.  In preparation for this, it is strongly recommended that the producer/casting director indicate in his/her casting breakdown that lip reading and/or speech skills we be required in the role.

Actor Michelle A. Banks:  “I was asked once for an audition if I could speak.  I told the casting director that I was not fluent in speaking English, but sometimes could be understood.  When I auditioned, the director asked me to speak.  I did.  The character was a hard of hearing woman and I got the role.  Sometimes the producer or director can make some adjustments to work around the character and with the actor.”

A note:  While it is permissible to ask an actor to speak if the script requires it, the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that it is not permissible to ask  the actor about his or her deafness such as how s/he became Deaf, just as one may not ask an actor her/his actual age, ethnicity or religion.

How can I most effectively use an interpreter during an audition?

There are many common-sense factors you should consider to best utilize an interpreter’s services.  Consider the logistics first.  An interpreter needs to be placed in an area not obstructed from the view of the participants.  Second, lighting must be sufficient enough for the interpreter to be seen.  Ideally, the background should be a solid color, though not a bright or strong hue.  Work this out with the consultant, interpreter, and actor.

What are some guidelines to remember when dealing with an interpreter?

As previously mentioned, address the Deaf or hard of hearing actor directly.  With respect to the interpreter, treat him or her as you would any other professional relationship.  Further, any information you can provide the interpreter in advance is welcome and helpful to the process – the general subject matter, the character’s names and any technical terms.  While it may be tempting to offer the interpreter another job in addition to his/her responsibilities of interpreting – actor, technical advisor, consultant, sign language coach, etc. – it is inappropriate at the least and is considered by some as unprofessional.  Approach this with forethought and sensitivity.

How can I make the audition/rehearsal/production process run as smoothly as possible?

Prepare as much as you can before the audition.  John Frank Levey, Casting Director for The West Wing and E.R. suggests learning simple yet important signs such as the ones for “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Goodbye,” to be able to communicate directly with Deaf actors on the set.  In one instance, he was able to applaud in sign language the work of a Deaf actor who had concluded filming a long sequence.