Aaron Kubey – Executive Director/President, National Theatre of the Deaf (2006-2007)
What changes have you witnessed and/or experienced in the last five years? (Be as specific or as general as is comfortable for you.) Has your own work been affected? If so, in what ways or to what degree? Has the work of others you know? If so, in what ways or to what degree?
There are more roles for Deaf actors than ever before, including the most recent record-breaking episode of Law & Order: CI [“Silencer”] that featured 51Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing actors on the same primetime show, which had never been done before in the history of television.
Although, my own work has not been affected—primarily due to the fact that I was finishing up my BFA degree at DePaul Theatre School, from which I graduated in 2006—some of my friends have gained a considerable amount of work due to the increase of roles for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing actors in the industry. They have had the chance to appear on various television shows, whereas prior to five years ago, they might not have had the chance to.
What is your perception and assessment of the current climate, of current attitudes and of current opportunities?
My perception and assessment of the current climate for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing actors is mixed. While I applaud the fact that more roles are being created for these actors, I am a bit disappointed in the attitudes and opportunities for them. It appears that the roles that are being created for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing actors still require them to speak and sign rather than naturally using ASL. If you look back at recent roles performed by Deaf actors, you’ll find the majority of them spoke at times while signing. There are some Deaf actors who can speak clearly, but generally, by making Deaf actors speak, you remove them from their natural comfort zone, which is signing. It is understood by the Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing acting community, reluctantly, that the actors need to speak so the hearing audience can understand what’s being said. In my opinion, there are better ways to ensure that everyone understands what is being said. Many Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing actors cannot or do not want to speak and sign, but feel they do not have much of a choice if they want to be hired for the role. It has been challenging to get the powers-that-be (producers, directors, and writers) to understand that it is unnatural for a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing actor to do both speak and sign at the same time and the meaning/concept of the signs is lost. When a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing person simcoms, which is the act of speaking while signing, the natural concept in ASL is lost, because the person is speaking in two languages at the same time. Speaking in ASL alone is more natural for a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing person and the whole concept of the conversation is intact. While it has been great to see an influx of roles being created for these actors, it has also been a double-edge sword they have had to fall upon. As I mentioned earlier, these actors are delighted to have the opportunity to work, but by asking them to both sign and speak, there is an inherent sacrifice in that delight for the Deaf actor. Ideally, decision makers would be best served, as would the Deaf actor, if they were able to find a way to understand and work with these actors in such a way as to allow them to perform their roles to the fullest, in the best, most natural way possible.
What about the climate and quality of the workplace—institutionally, staff interaction, creative team, company members—with respect to these issues?
While the staff, creative team, and company members are trying to do their best to accommodate us, they still need to be educated on what is and what is not appropriate in how to handle a Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing actor. They should be commended for at least making an effort to make sure that these actors’ needs are being met. It is a definite improvement of how things were from 10 years ago to the last five years, but there is still much to improve.
What would you identify as the primary remaining barriers to achieving inclusion? What support/actions from other organizations and/or individuals would alleviate, or help to alleviate, these barriers and assist the work you are doing?
I would think the primary remaining barrier to achieving full inclusion would be the education creative teams need to understand the sensitivity of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community (and their actors). Working with well-known Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing organizations in understanding the community would be the best possible step they could take.
What is the kind of work that most engages you now? Are issues of inclusion and/or diversity a factor in your work?
I recently became the first Deaf Executive Director/President at the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD). This is a major breakthrough in inclusion and diversity, considering the National Theatre of the Deaf is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Prior to coming to NTD, I was the Artistic Director of New York Deaf Theatre. I have been working towards improving inclusion within our own theatre company by creating events and choosing plays where inclusion and diversity can be achieved. The company is still in the early stages of being revamped and improving its image in the community.
“We are not only here to entertain, but to educate the communities about Deaf culture” has always been my motto and exemplifies my vision of Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing artists. It is my hope that over the next few years, issues of inclusion and diversity will be moot.
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