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Interview with NYDT’s Deaf Gay Artistic Director

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30 year-old Chicago-born, Aaron Kubey is the new artistic director of the New York Deaf Theatre.

New Queer Expressions

By Christopher Murray
Theater Gay City News

The New York Deaf Theatre (NYDT) hasn’t had an artistic director in more then 10 years, when Anthony Allicino was at the helm. But several months ago, a vibrant young actor from Chicago was tapped to take the theater to a new level.

Aaron Kubey, 30, an out gay man, is deaf, with augmentation from a hearing aid that allows him hear partially and even engage in that most emblematic New York City activity, walk down the street talking on his mobile phone. Although he still relies on lip reading, he has never considered himself disabled, a controversial word among the deaf.

Kubey trained with the National Theatre of the Deaf and made a big splash at Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles at 19 playing Alan Strang, the intense and troubled young man at the center of Peter Schaffer’s “Equus.” He later became the first deaf student in the 80-plus-year history of the DePaul Theatre School in his hometown of Chicago.

In New York for six months now, Kubey has already scheduled shows for NYDT for the next two years and is working to build collaborations with mainstream theatres around town. Kubey is also acting in their current revival of Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy.”

CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: What your job as the artistic director of the New York Deaf Theatre?
AARON KUBEY: This past January, the theater held an open forum meeting to decide if it was time to close down. There was no leadership. Some friends of mine said we know someone with the passion and ideas, you should hire him. They did! In the past four months, I’ve tried to initiate a major face-lift – redoing the logo, sponsoring a signed performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” and collaborating with LaGuardia Community College on Deaf Awareness Week activities.
I’ve formed a development committee and we had a pool tournament fundraiser that was really successful and fun. The NYDT has been functioning as a really professional community theater. My goal is to turn it into a professional theater that serves the community.

CM: How has the transition been for you moving to New York City?
AK: From Chicago it’s not that much of a difference, it’s bigger. Recently, I called my grandmother for her birthday and left a message on her answering machine. She had to listen to it four times before realizing it was me. I guess I’m already getting a New York accent and talking New York fast!

CM: Is your family deaf?
AK: Both my parents are deaf and my older sister. I have two hearing sisters. Both my parents are first-generation deaf. My sister and I are the first generation in my family to know American Sign Language [ASL].

CM: How much can you hear?
AK: With my hearing aid about 75-80 percent. Without it, not much.

MC: The deaf community is changing rapidly, as is the gay community. What is it like to live in both those worlds?
AK: It’s hard and easy at the same time. When I go out to a gay bar with friends, everyone looks at us signing away. They check us out, but are often intimidated about coming up and saying hello. Maybe they don’t know we can lip read, they are concerned that they don’t know ASL.
But some people get over that and do approach you and make conversation. They say they want to learn how to sign. After Spanish,

ASL is the fastest growing language in America. LaGuardia Community College has a terrific interpretation-training program.

CM: You’re currently single, do you tend to date within the deaf community?
AK: Both within and without. Some people prefer not to date another deaf gay person. It varies. The gay deaf community is very tight.

CM: What is it about deaf theater that is so moving?
AK: It’s an extremely powerful thing, first off, because of the sheer beauty of sign language. It’s a quiet language in terms of auditory impact, but so loud and bold in terms of visual experience. You get so much more out of the expression of the character through signing.

When we do deaf theater, usually there are two actors for each character, one signing and one speaking. Each signing actor must translate the text into ASL and to do that they must analyze the character’s intent, emotions, how the story the changing them physically. It’s a powerful way of communicating drama.

CM: Why did you choose to produce Durang’s “Beyond Therapy?”
AK: It’s tremendously funny play. All the relationships shown are ones we really know from real life, just exaggerated.

CM: That’s scary.
AK: Scary, but true. There are characters with lousy self-esteem who overcompensate with boldness. Characters indecisive about their sexuality. You have the sleazy shrink trying to get into his patients’ pants. And characters who mean well, but are pretty out there in the directions they take. They are all a couple hens short of a henhouse, like all of us.

In terms of signing, we’re taking a new approach with this play. All the actors playing characters are deaf, and we have just two actors to voice the roles, one speaking all the men’s parts and one for the women’s. It’s a great challenge for the actors voicing the roles, especially when everyone’s talking at once!

(( Source: Theater Gay City News ))