Jennifer roberts

ARTIST in residence

“I am an actor who was raised in a Deaf family as well as within a Deaf community. My mother, father, aunt, and cousin are Deaf and I grew up in a small town that hosts one of Canada’s only schools for the Deaf, which subsequently meant there was a large local Deaf population. We have always used American Sign Language at home to communicate and my parents felt strongly about making their culture a central part of my upbringing. I therefore consider myself bi-cultural and it is an identity that I have always been proud of.

This upbringing also means that I witnessed a lot of harsh treatment toward my family and friends, such as stigma from the hearing community, assumptions that my family was lesser-educated or capable of being financially independent, or even able to raise children. People were often surprised at how “bright” my brother and I were and couldn’t understand how we ended up “that way.” I grew up very defensive of my family’s culture and have supported my parents in their fight to be seen as “normal” and autonomous people. Just a few weeks ago, two women saw me with my parents at a pub. As we left, the two women told my boyfriend: “What a sweet girl, taking care of her parents like that.” The assumption that these women made in me being a caretaker for my parents because of them being Deaf (or in their minds, handicapped) is not only ridiculous, but exhausting and all too repetitive.

Over the years I’ve been told many stories from my family about what it was like growing up Deaf. For years I have been toying with the idea of turning these absurd, imagery-filled, and impactful stories into a play. During my time at the BTW Artist Mentorship Program, I met with Julie Tamiko Manning, a theatre artist who was creating a play involving her Japanese background. We talked about the right to represent a community you are half a part of, and this conversation re-kindled my interest in putting my family’s stories on the stage. I do feel I belong to the Deaf culture and community and have craved for a true representation of the Deaf, something rarely seen on stage or on screen. My parents have such interesting stories and things to say, and I have yearned, and this for a long time, for these to be heard by a larger public than myself. However, since few people learn ASL, I struggled with the way in which these stories could indeed be heard. Sadly, up until now, the stories have stayed within the Deaf community, within that circle. I want hearing people to learn about this culture. I want to do it for my family, and I want people to see how inspirational and strong and beautiful they are. And these stories are just from my own parents, so imagine how many stories come from the countless other Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing members in our society. I want hearing people to view the Deaf as complete humans with a wealth of life experience and knowledge. I want my hearing friends to see it and be inspired to learn ASL or think more highly of Deaf people they have met or will meet in the future. I don’t want Deaf people to be seen as pitied or “handicapped” anymore.

I also want to examine our response to difference. I want to explore the absurd decisions our society and politicians make in order to “normalize” anyone who is considered different. This includes an investigation into our educational system, the philosophy of our top politicians in the US and Canada in the last 50 years when it comes to the Deaf, and the history of ASL acceptance within our country. In short, I want to play with how strange it is, that we as a society, have such a hard time allowing people to be themselves, as they were born, and that we have such a need to assimilate the other.”

about jen

Jennifer is an actor, acting teacher, and emerging playwright. She moved to Montreal after high-school to complete her B.F.A Specialization in Theatre & Development at Concordia University. She has since worked with local companies that include Scapegoat Carnivale, Talisman Theatre, The Other Theatre, Geordie Productions, National Theatre School, Seeing Voices Montreal, Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal, and Imago Theatre, among others. Jennifer has taught acting and theatre skills at the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts, Shift Space, Actor’s Studio Montreal, Montreal Children’s Theatre, Geordie Theatre School, Concordia University, and at community centres in and around Montreal, northern Quebec, and Uganda. She was an actor in Black Theatre Workshop’s 2014-2015 Mentorship Program and was awarded a Montreal English Theatre Award (Best Supporting Actress) for her role as Simon in Chloe’s Choice by Geordie Productions. Jennifer was raised in a Deaf household and is fluent in American Sign Language. She is currently obtaining her diploma in ASL/English Interpretation while also writing two pieces about Deaf culture, exploring what it is to be different, to learn and to be ignorant, social (in)tolerance, and exploring the “other” through means of storytelling.