Preface: Boston prides itself as an epicenter of progression and equality. In specific, its theatre community enjoys patting itself on the back for having open-minded discussions on justice matters. The reality for those of us identifying as minorities is this: Boston loves to talk but it is slow to act. Whether we be people of color, women, disabled/differently abled, plus sized, a senior citizen, or on the LGBTQIA+ gender spectrum, we feel left behind and/or ignored. Niche groups exist but we don’t want to exist as a niche. We want equal consideration for the opportunities our white, cis, hetero, fully abled, svelte, frequently male colleagues take for granted. We demand representation in the stories about us.
Below is a letter from E.J., an artist in our community. Please read his words and reflect upon how they effect our community. It is my hope that this letter is the first in a series of posts that confront Boston’s slow reaction to the activism it claims to embody.
Boston Theatre Community, it’s time to make your feet walk the walk you’re so good at talking about. None of us are free until we are all free.
Kitty, The Queen Geek
My name is Elbert Joseph, known as E.J. I am Black/Caribbean American, deaf/Hard of Hearing and a gay male.
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.
My name is Elbert Joseph, I have cultures in me, Because of experiences and battles; I have learned to be strong. I live in cultures where I have to pick between a community and the chance to fit in. I have been fighting; lost and unhappy. I don’t have an identity for me. Who is Elbert Joseph? I won’t know until I find a heart – a home – a community in Boston theatres.
I am constantly called to break down barriers. Just when I think I have broken down the last wall, I am pushed three steps back. Why is that? Is it because of my demeanor or my attitude?
Is it because I need more training or my need to further my network? If so, who are the teachers, and where are the opportunities for deaf/hard of hearing actors?
I have been acting for almost 23 years. I have my own fires to fan, and my own battles to fight. Now, I am writing this letter; baring my heart and soul. At some point I have to say, “Enough is enough!” However, this doesn’t mean I have given up.
Ever since I can remember, the career advice I have been given was that I should work at the grocery store, on a computer, or as a Deaf Interpreter. That was the highest that people would strive for me. How do they know? Why was the bar set so low? Don’t they see how unhappy I am?
Where is the support from the Boston theatre community to engage and encourage the diversity 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 yet – fully, equally. How does the Boston theatre community celebrate inclusion? Why are we constantly an afterthought or pushed aside? Discussion of equality is not enough. We deserve action.
Last summer, I talked with panelists at the StageSource conference about casting approaches. I spoke about how the process of casting is elitist and a breeding ground for audism. I touched on how theatre, supposedly, is about immersing oneself in the visions, feelings, tastes and smells of the world the show is portraying. 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?” Where is the forward momentum? Where is the action plan? Where are the changes we discussed at length? So far, the answer I have received is “no.”
Even after the Elliot Norton Awards and other conversations in the theatre community, I continue to hear the call for diversity, yet I don’t feel as if the message is coming across. Diversity should not be limited to the color of the actors’ skin (edited to add: or gender). The concept of diversity means inclusion for all. Inclusion is diversity. The call for diversity should not be hollow. What more will it take for our allies to act? That’s what I would like to know.
I truly believe diversity, inclusion and equal accessibility makes the theatre a welcoming place for all. It is our social responsibility to be supportive of equal access and when the theatre community celebrates diversity and accessibility, it creates a culture of inclusion and support.
My name is Elbert Joseph, known as E.J., I am Black/Caribbean American, I am deaf/Hard of hearing and I am a gay male. I wonder what is it that the Boston theatre community sees when they look at me. I am hurt, full of frustration, angry, saddened and disappointed that this community has let me down.
I have been a strong advocate for myself but self-advocating is not enough. I have been 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 theatre community, working twice as hard for my skill and talent to be seen and appreciated. The disabled community needs the help of its allies.
I have broken down walls of oppression and opened the doors for future actors who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. I have a passion for this community and I will be tenacious and continue to break down barriers that keep out the less privileged. When is it my turn to have the privileges from this community that I have supported and worked so hard to help succeed?
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.
Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD
TCG has a list of things you can do to help.
#blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #brownlivesmatter #yellowlivesmatter #lgbtqialivesmatter #immigrantlivesmatter #muslimlivesmatter #disabledlivesmatter #theatreartsmatter