After so much worrying, I am pleased to say that I will officially be directing Tribes in the spring!
I submitted my addendum this past week asking the theatre faculty to allow an exception to the rule requiring casting JMU students only, so that I may find a Deaf actor to play Billy in my show.
You can see my addendum below; I have attached it so that everyone can see why it is so important to me to proceed with a Deaf actor. If there is anyone who is Deaf/HOH interested in auditioning for Tribes, please see the previous post concerning the casting call! Thank you so much for everyone’s support throughout this process. I want to give a special shoutout to Mike Sprouse who has been so supportive and helpful in the past few weeks. I am so excited that he is my ASL master for this production! I can’t wait for auditions!
After doing a lot of research, thinking, and discussing Tribes with members of the faculty, I would like to ask permission to cast a non-JMU student in the role of Billy in my production. Billy is the play’s central character, the one whose deafness is a metaphor for all of the challenges with communication, who cannot find where he fits in among many different tribes. My research into Tribes’ production history and communication with Deaf friends reiterated how incredibly important this play is to the Deaf community. Many people believe that it is essential to cast Deaf actors in Deaf roles, because otherwise there is a lack of authentic representation and often misinterpretation of the character. My contacts and friends in the Deaf community have encouraged me to explore more casting possibilities so as to do the play, as well as the identities and ideas in the script, justice.
With your permission, I would like to look for a Deaf or hard of hearing actor outside of JMU. However, I still plan on casting a hearing Billy from our department who will serve as an understudy. He will perform one show and will have a chance of learning directly from someone in the Deaf community that he will be representing. Bringing in an expert from the Deaf community will positively affect the entire production; he will not be brought in simply for authenticity, but will contribute to the learning experience of everyone in the cast and the crew. We, as a cast and as a department, will get a glimpse into a different facet of theatre not otherwise seen at JMU. Getting to work with a Deaf actor will provide new perspectives into a culture that we don’t often consider, especially in regards to theatre. After my experience visiting Deaf West Theatre in LA I know there is a lot to be learned from this community of theatre artists; the way they approach the text, the characters they portray, the way cues are called, the way designs are rendered are all things that we, as a hearing department, do not understand yet. This opportunity will offer awareness to many and may strike a fire in someone who sees the passion in this community as much as I do. In Deaf theatre, every design element is considered very specifically because the actors are Deaf; this is how bringing in an expert on that community can aid actors and designers alike. Bringing in a Deaf actor will not take away an experience from anyone, it can only add to his or her experiences and make everyone more well-rounded theatre artists.
I have now come to the personal realization that I am genuinely uncomfortable with casting a hearing actor in this role; by doing this I would be communicating a lack of cultural sensitivity, which would be detrimental to the goals of my production and any future success of incorporating this community into our department. It is my hope that the faculty will support this exception to the policy and allow me to cast a non-JMU student in the role of Billy. Doing so will provide a fascinating and productive opportunity for JMU, and for the School of Theatre and Dance, and will offer some diversity otherwise not available to our students. This choice is aimed at increasing the quality of the production, igniting fires and ultimately elevating the cultural conversation within the department.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules to consider what I have to say. I sincerely appreciate your support!