Chris Dodd is groundbreaking Canadian artist. Based in Treaty 6 (Edmonton), he founded SOUND OFF, which is a national festival focused on Deaf performance. He’s also a Deaf actor, playwright, and accessibility advocate.
Dodd wrote and performs in Deafy, which begins with a Deaf public speaker, Nathan Jesper arriving late at a venue. According to a Pi Theatre news release, this one-hour play “skillfully combines ASL, surtitles, and the spoken word to weave together a tragicomedy that takes the audience on an unexpected journey of discovering what it really means to belong”.
Pi Theatre will present Deafy as part of its Provocateurs Series from Friday (November 24) to Sunday (November 26 at the VIFF Studio Theatre. In advance of these performances, Pancouver conducted an email interview with Dodd. You can read the artist’s responses below.
Pancouver: What are the origins of Deafy?
Chris Dodd: I previously co-wrote another solo show, “Silent Words” with my hearing director, Ashley Wright. During the later runs of the show, we added surtitles to it, to ensure the audience could understand me. I always knew I needed to write a second show, one that went even further with discussing the specific issues that challenge Deaf people, as well as making use of surtitles in a unique and fun way.
I started writing the show in 2017 with the support of Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen and it had its first showing at SummerWorks Performance Festival in Toronto in 2019. After a pause for COVID, we started touring the show and we’ve had many opportunities to fine tune it over time. The play was published last year by Playwrights Canada Press as part of the anthology, “Interdependent Magic: Disability Performance in Canada”.
Pancouver: What were your goals with this production?
CD: To create a one-hander that plainly laid out my experiences at this point in my life as a Deaf person. But done so in a very theatrical way that’s entertaining as it is informative.
Pancouver: Why did you feel that it was necessary to write and perform this play?
CD: Deafy is an act of using my personal voice as a Deaf writer. By both writing and performing it, it gives me complete control over the content and how it is presented. It is unfortunate that many stories involving Deaf characters, especially within the film and TV, are still written by hearing authors. It’s incredibly important for us to have venues to tell our own stories.
Pancouver: Can you share what it’s like going through the world without being able to hear other people speak?
CD: Well, that’s actually a bit of a misunderstanding. I “hear” people speak all the time. Not with my ears, as I am profoundly Deaf, but with my eyes. I am a fairly good lip-reader, having needed to pick up the skill as a survival instinct, so when you combine that with gestures and basic intuition, I can navigate my way through the world, although not without some challenges.
Pancouver: What are the biggest misconceptions about those who are unable to hear?
CD: You already touched upon one. Hearing loss is a spectrum. Many people assume that someone who is Deaf cannot hear anything but that’s not true. Also, the same for speaking ability. Some people who are Deaf are comfortable with using their voices, where others choose not to use them at all. Some people who are culturally Deaf and fluent signers can actually hear well with the use of hearing aids. However, the degree of deafness does not determine where they fit within the hierarchy of identity. Defining yourself as Deaf is really much more complicated than people realize.
Pancouver: What are you hoping that Deafy will convey to Vancouver audiences?
CD: Deafy takes the audience on a journey of discovering the world according to the Deaf protagonist, Nathan Jesper. He tells the audience various stories from his life, some hilarious, some touching and heartful, but all of them illuminating. I hope the audience will come away with a new appreciation and understanding of what it is like to be Deaf. The play is a comedy but it’s crafted to make you think. Many people have told me that the play has stayed with them long after the curtain has come down.
Pancouver: If you were to describe Chris Dodd in three adjectives, what would they be?
CD: Curious, bold, attentive.
Pancouver: How would you describe your writing process?
CD: Slow! I love writing but sometimes it takes time for the pieces to come together when working on something new. Deafy had a developmental process of about three years. But the time spent crafted, reworking and workshopping the show has paid off and our creative team finally feels we have arrived at a place where we feel content with the shape of the show.
Pancouver: What are your future career plans?
CD: I am a full-time artist, so my year is booked up with gigs and events between now and next fall. One thing I am looking forward to is bringing Deafy to the Netherlands in October for a Deaf and disability arts festival. I would love more opportunities to perform this show outside of Canada, so that’s a long-term goal for us. Also, I am starting a film career as an actor and my first film, Finality of Dusk, will premiere at the Whistler Film Festival at the end of this month. I am looking forward to opportunities to do more film work.
Pancouver: What can governments do to reduce the marginalization of the Deaf?
CD: The Accessible Canada Act that was introduced in 2019 was a good start. However, the tenets within that act only directly apply to government services and departments. Ontario has the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act but other provinces in Canada are lagging behind on ensuring that accessibility is a right. Access is still very fragmented and piecemeal.
Pancouver: What can individuals do if they want to reduce the marginalization of the deaf?
CD: Educate yourself about the particular challenges within the Deaf community, along with the intersectional challenges for Black, Indigenous and queer Deaf community members. Ask them what they need in order to thrive within your spaces and your communities.
Pancouver: What else would you like to tell our readers, either about Deafy or being Deaf?
CD: Despite the title, Deafy is for all audiences and everyone is welcome. We have carefully crafted the show with surtitles, spoken English and ASL, as everyone has an equal experience, regardless of whether they are Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing.
Credits for Deafy:
Writer|Performer: Chris Dodd
Director: Ashley Wright
Production Designer|Surtitlist: Sarah Karpyshin
Associate Lighting Designer|Surtitlist: Whittyn Jason
Sound Designer: Dave Clarke
Movement Coach: Ainsley Hillyard
Stage Manager: Jess Arden
ASL Coach: Amorena Bartlett
Vocal Coach: Joshua Meredith
Community Outreach Coordinator: Ladan Sahraei
Pi Theatre will present Deafy as part of its Provocateurs Series from Friday (November 24) to Sunday (November 26) at the VIFF Studio Theatre. For tickets and information, visit the Pi Theatre website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.