AMERICAN THEATER | “Find joy in the destruction of lies”


Intersection, not inclusion

Monique Holt.

My name is Monique, but my name is MoMo. I have been working with TCG since 2017. Working with Elena chang, Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), and Corinna Schulenberg, Director of Communications and Community Engagement, who are awesome. I must tell you that I was impressed. There is still a lot of work to be done. Still, I am grateful for this experience.

Thank you for inviting me to this panel and giving me the opportunity to express the theater community of disabled and deaf people. With COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, there are definitely times of disorientation for all of us. Whatever happens, I tell you: I am always with you all.

When I was a young actor I thought I could ignore the problems of the rest of the world and just do my acting job. But I realized if I did that, I would be living a lie. I am part of this community, which means that we work together. I never thought: I will not get involved with these people, because they are not signatories. How ridiculous!

I was adopted by a white Mennonite deaf family and they signed up. I went to schools that used sign language. Then I went to a college that didn’t. And I was like, well, I’m here now. Fast forward, I work in both deaf and hearing theater communities. I realize that I have to become the bridge between these two worlds, because in the Deaf community, Deaf people do not get the same information as hearing people. We don’t hear the information, we see it. With captions and sign language. You may notice that there is a sign language interpreter on this session, as well as the closed captioning [CC] at the bottom of this zoom screen. This is important visual information for us. This is how we involve other Deaf people and disseminate our information. Yes, we have to take a lot of legwork to get there. I have a lot of people with a lot of legs everywhere!

As an actor I have worked for many different theater companies. My last “big concert” was with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It opened my eyes. Oregon is basically a racist state (Portland excluded), and the people there were showing their true colors and they didn’t care. It showed us how racist they were. Bill Rauch was the artistic director. Many POC artists have expressed their concerns and unease. It was a primary problem. We had meetings with members of the company and had an ongoing talk about people of color and LGBTQ people and their safety. Bill wanted to make sure actors, staff, artists and clients felt safe in the city. He asked OSF representatives to visit grocery stores, restaurants, bars and various vendors and discuss race and safety issues with them. They even got stores to agree to stocking POC supplies: skin and hair products, etc. OSF engaged them all, so the city was conscious and united. OSF helped and created a space for its audience to feel safe too.

They did, so is possible. We can Make it happen. We need to educate people. We need to to hire them. The OSF’s June celebration included an LGBTQ celebration to celebrate our art and our stories. This is exactly what we need to do. We need to do more. In order to do this correctly, it means that we need to have ASL interpreters and subtitles to include the deaf community (this also includes hearing impaired people who don’t sign but can’t hear very well). Often we, the Deaf community, are left out. What can we do about it? This is another problem.

Recently, a number of deaf actors have taken part in Broadway shows: Big river, Spring awakening, Children of an inferior God, King Lear, and Kill a mockingbird. That deaf actors are being hired on Broadway is incredible. But at the same time, we need to bring more POCs. This is done slowly and must continue to move steadily.

What is the problem? Why aren’t we seeing more POCs involved? It is because we are not reaching out. Some of this information is not being released, which means we need a team of scouts — people who know where to go and who to contact to spread the word. I think it’s a similar challenge for all POCs in the theater community. We have to look and see and bring everyone together. In addition, we must educate the white and able-bodied theater community. It’s something I really push for.

Recently, TCG’s Elena Chang invited me to chat while I was in town and figure out what we need to do to take the next step. In fact, when I saw how she was working with theater companies regarding the EDI approach, I thought to myself that it was a wonderful opportunity to broaden our target. Let’s develop the EDI workshops into an EDI program, a 16-week course tailored to the university. I am not joking. I am excited by this idea. I believe theater, art, film, dance and music programs including human resources can benefit from that, and then we can use that program in high schools and performing arts. Through the EDI program, people will become more aware of how we can work together and as a team and stay united.

Sometimes I feel frustrated. I am aware of three things against me: I am 1) Asian, 2) short, and 3) deaf. What can I do? I suck at selling myself or marketing my skills. It’s a fact: When I was a brownie, I hated selling Girl Scout cookies. I did not have this badge. But I think I can get an artist badge after hearing what I have to say.

I have conducted a few shows for the Deaf Theater and very small hearing theater companies. I want to stage more and do more radical plays, which has nothing to do with deafness. So I became more assertive and approached people in the theater world to let them know that I would like to stage plays. Their response was, “I don’t know if they’re ready for you. Hearing this answer was disheartening. I was the only deaf student at a hearing university and graduated with an MFA in theater. And there, I’m trying to figure out how to pay off my student loan if they don’t give me a chance. So I ended up writing and directing my own play right now and I’m getting paid for it.

I thought, hearing people take director jobs for The miracle worker, Children of an inferior God, and Tribes are arrogant. They are definitely not ready for these jobs. Why? They constantly ask Deaf theater people to intervene as a last resort to “consult” the director on Deaf culture, sign language and what Deaf actors or characters are doing. After consultation, administrators expect deaf consultants to work for free. When I learned how much directors were making for a gig at a major Equity production, I found it incredibly insulting. I have noticed that a few art directors, artists, directors and theater access directors are better educated these days. Hope they are ready to hire a deaf director or team up with a hearing co-director.

These problems are not limited to the theater, but are also true in the larger world, which we identify as microaggressions. For example, when the access director hires ASL performers to perform the show for deaf clients, if there are no POC actors in the room, it never occurs to them to hire POC interpreters. Why not? For example, in a large theater company I worked as DASL, or artistic sign language director – we function as playwrights and sign language coaches for theater performers. I was not involved in a production of The color purple, but another DASL there told me that they were complaining that they only got hired if there were POC actors on the scene. The result is that POC performers find it difficult to gain more experience in theatrical performance, as they have rarely been hired for non-POC concerts.

I recognize it’s a similar problem for others – that theater companies generally don’t hire POC people for theatrical work unless there is a person of color on the show. What is that? WTF? Why? I realize that this behavior is not limited to the theater, but it must Stop. We are the people. We are artists. Life imitates art, art imitates life. We are intertwined. There is not one or the other. Everything is intertwined. It’s a thing. Everything intersects.

Some definitions : Inclusion refers to “a person or thing that is part of a larger group or structure, that is, ‘The exhibit has inclusions such as the study of the girl child.’ Another example: a group of hearing people and a deaf person. Hearing people want to invite the Deaf person, but this Deaf person does not speak or hear, so hearing people need to hire an ASL interpreter. for the deaf person. Seems like deafness is a burden.

But intersectionality refers to “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender, as they apply to a given individual or group, considered to create overlapping systems of discrimination or disadvantage and are interdependent ”. Example: the same group of hearing people and a deaf person, and hearing people want to invite a deaf person but they cannot sign. So they hire an ASL interpreter to all of them. Looks like they recognize that with an ASL interpreter, they will be able to communicate with a deaf person.

Intersectionality means that we all come together and create a collective world, like a flower. We are definitely each of individuals, just as the individual petals come together as one collective flower. We can flourish together if we have the same ideology. We have to stop thinking that we are not part of the flower. We are part of a whole. We’re not a group here, and another group there. We are a whole. And that’s my message. Thank you.

Monique Holt

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