FNDC Spring • 2019
How do you keep track of where you are in the script when the actors in the
scene aren't necessarily signing back at you?
DJB:It's been a real challenge. That's the game we've been playing all along,
for sure. When we began to create the show, honestly we had no idea what
we were doing. It emerged out of the process and we had to trust each
other and we had to have enormous trust in the process. As a deaf actor, I've
worked with many hearing actors so I know that my team needs to under-
stand what it's like to share a stage with a deaf actor and a deaf colleague.
I have a lot of skill in reading body language ... but it wasn't until the fourth
week of rehearsal in our rst run ofPrince Hamletthat [director] Ravi Jain and
I came to the realization that we needed to build this production in a special
way. Sometimes I read the lips of performers to know where they are in the
script. Sometimes we build in physical cues so that I can follow. But I have to
memorize the whole show! I did the translation of the Shakespearean text
into ASL, and I taught some of the hearing actors some signs. So we were
trying to stumble on ways that we could tell the same story to two audiences
(deaf and hearing).
TP:That must be a challenge. Shakespeare Is so well known for his metaphors
and wordplay.Was it tough translating into sign language?
DJB:Yes. Excuse my language. I'm not sure if I can say this, but no s**t, it's
challenging! Absolutely it is. Shakespearean English is extraordinarily dicult
and dense. It's rich with playfulness and metaphor. As I read the text, it's
an exciting challenge for me to gure out what it essentially means, and
how I can provide a translation that is equally rich and enjoyable to a deaf
audience. It's not an exact representation in conversational ASL (American
Sign Language), it's artistic. Many deaf people don't have a lot of experiences
with Shakespeare. English is often a second language for deaf people, and so
I want to ensure that they have access to the beauty and poetry of the text.
TP: You grew up in Regina in Saskatchewan, doing taekwondo at a very
professional level. When did you know you wanted to be an actor? It's not
every day I see that jump from taekwondo to acting.
DJB:That's a long story.I don't know how much time you've got but I will try
and make it brief. I was born deaf. I come from a third-generation deaf family.
My grandparents are deaf. They were farmers in Saskatchewan. When I was
seven years old, I saw a Bruce Lee movie and I thought this is it. I want to be
Bruce Lee. When I told my parents that I wanted to get into taekwondo they
were a little concerned. They didn't see me in that world. I went to my uncle
who assisted me in signing up for a class, and I felt that once I started, it was
a talent that I seemed to have been born with. I took to it like a sh to water.
At the same time, I was always interested in the theatre and in arts. I liked to
go into my grandmother's closet and play dress up, and I would convince
my baby sister, who is also deaf, to come and play with me. We would do full
makeup and create these little skits and stories, which we would perform for
my family. As time went on, I was attending a mainstream school with hearing
students and they did have a theatreprogram. But when I approached the
program and asked to be part of it, I was told that they didn't have adequate
resources to involve me as a deaf person in their theatreprogram. I wasn't
permitted to participate.
It was when I moved to Europe that I was rst exposed to professional sign-
language theatre. They have them in Sweden, Finland, and Norway —and it
was a really natural t for me. I began to work with some of those companies.
At rst I was behind the scenes. I kept looking at the actors on the stage and I
thought, "You know what? I am in the wrong place. I need to be on the stage."
Once I tried it, that was it. I was hooked. The rest is history.
TP:You mentioned earlier, about having more opportunities now that you
live in Finland. What has your experience been in Finland as an artist with a
DJB:First of all, it's interesting that you chose the word disability for a deaf
person. I don't view myself as somebody with a disability. We are a linguistic
minority, and that's how many of us identify. Our language is what keeps
us apart. But to answer your question, here in Canada, the government
support provided to deaf people is really quite weak, and continuing to
fall behind other countries. In Finland, I have the right to access inter-
preters for any reason. For instance, I can attend an actor's night-out social
with an interpreter, which allows me to network. Right now, the interpreter
who's currently with us — Kate Lewis — is being paid for by the Finnish
government. So these opportunities would never happen for me if I had to
rely on the resources that were here in Canada.
TP:First o, I appreciate your clarication there and I feel like I'm learning
so much throughout this conversation. One last question about Prince
Hamlet.When people see this show, when they get in their cars or on the
bus, what kind of conversations would you like them to be having with one
DJB:It's a good question. I've wondered this myself. Yes, we're telling the
story of Hamlet, but I believe that we have other purposes and other intents
behind our production.Prince Hamletis an extraordinary example of inter-
sectional theatre. Our cast is very diverse. We have people of colour. We have
hearing actors. We have myself as a deaf actor. We are not doing traditional
gender casting. So we have an enormous amount of diversity that we're
using to tell this story. And I think that we're looking at how a number of
minority communities would be able to benet from theatre through this
process. It allows for dierent kinds of stories to be told by dierent kinds of