This post is part of our “Broadening and Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” blog salon for National Arts in Education Week 2018.
My name is Elbert Joseph, I was raised in Boston and lived most of my life here. My dream is to be an actor because I want to transform lives and inspire the world through my craft. I want to empower the Deaf generation, old and young, to know they have choices. When audience sees me, they would say wait, this guy can do it, then my kid could do it too.
Career advice I have been given was that I should work at a grocery store, or on a computer, or as a Deaf Interpreter, because that was the highest that people like me should strive.
My name is Elbert Joseph, I have cultures in me, because of experiences and battles; I have learned. I live in cultures where I have to pick between a community and the chance to fit in. My cultures are Black, Deaf, and Gay. Family, friends, and colleagues are different from each other. Not many of them understand about certain matters: with acting I have to learn mostly on my own to improve my articulation and diction, for the sole purpose of equalizing myself to my hearing peers. I combat hearing privilege in the theatre community, working twice as hard for my skill and talent to be seen and appreciated. But I had to choose to fight.
I act in my hometown and some beyond. I always audition but very rare I am cast … they say money is the issue. I stay in my hometown and I have worked with many colleagues … yet, I am overlooked, I have addressed the issues to them: Why is that?
Is it because of my demeanor or my attitude?
Is it because I need more training?
Do I need to further my network?
If so, who are the teachers and where are the classes and how are the opportunities accessible for deaf/hard of hearing actors?
Where is the support from the Boston theatre community to engage and encourage the diversity and inclusion of artists? How can those with disabilities grow their crafts and skills in professional performances, both backstage and onstage? Yes, the accessibility is getting there, but we are not there fully—equally.
I have a question for my hometown: are you doing your theatre business for money or heart of community inclusion? You are losing people—I have heard stories from Deaf actors, playwrights, designers: where are the spaces to learn? How does the Boston theatre community celebrate inclusion? Why are we constantly in the back row?
I talk about casting approaches. Being able to hear is not a prerequisite to being a skilled actor or a good fit for a role. Are casting and “hearing” directors willing to change their perspective regarding casting and their understanding of what makes an actor “qualified”? I need them to think of possible roles for Deaf actors … or collaborate with Deaf actors when prepping for your next production or season. There are some theatre people that sign but the problem is: who are the board members? How often are Deaf people part of your board? Executives, challenge yourself, collaborate with Deaf artists, invent new stories and reimagine language.
Look out there in the real world. What do you see? The world is changing, disability is human rights. We see different layers in the stuffs they can bring to the table. We see every day in our community, each human being has their own story. And where is that integrated on stage? Because we need to surprise each generation in many different ways, more realistic, more truthful, more heart …
Who is Elbert Joseph? I won't know until I find a heart—a home—a community in Boston theatres. I was told I should go to NYC and/or LA for better chances, better opportunity. And it means I have to start all over again: know people, network, make connections, and face competition. But why go when I know my hometown theatre community needs some change for the better, more opportunity for people like me.
Where is the forward momentum?
Where is the action plan?
Where are the changes?
You need to invite the abilities!
I know many of us Deaf artists feel we have no voice. We need you to listen to our hurt, our frustration, our anger, our sadness, our disappointment, and be accessibility inclusive. We can't do it alone. We have to work together. Because ALL representation does matter!
The call for diversity should not be hollow.
My name is ……...