Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An Interview with Elbert Joseph (Tuc)

As a Deaf, Caribbean-American pre-teen passionately devoted to theatre and intent on making it his career, Elbert Joseph found his way to Wheelock Family Theatre.  He appeared with the cast of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp when he was twelve years old.  He also became the Theatre’s first Deaf ASL interpreter.  He trained as a member of WFT’s PAH! Deaf Youth Theatre and went on to appear on the Wheelock main stage in numerous productions, including in the lead role in E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, for which he earned an IRNE nomination (a Boston-based theatre award).

While a professor at Regis College, WFT Producer Wendy Lement cast Elbert in the lead role of Tuc in her production of Mother Hicks.  Coincidentally, just at this time Suzan Zeder’s prequel to Mother Hicks—The Taste of Sunrise—was released.  Zeder had written it in response to the flood of requests she received from people around the world who wanted to know more about the background of the three main characters.  Elbert approached WFT in hopes that the Theatre would produce it.  However, given the number of Deaf characters, and the associated cost of providing interpreter support for them, WFT was unable to produce the show at that time.  In the summer of 2013, Zeder’s long-awaited sequel to Mother Hicks, The Edge of Peace, was published, creating a trilogy of plays revolving around the character of Tuc.


Elbert is finally realizing his dream to revisit the character of Tuc, not only in WFT’s production of The Taste of Sunrise, but also—almost simultaneously—in the productions of Mother Hicks (at Emerson Stage) and The Edge of Peace (at Central Square Theater).

And, because of the 14 years that have passed since he first took on the role of Tuc, he is now closer to the actual age of the character.

When did you get interested in acting?

I started acting when I was twelve years old. My school always took trips to see Wheelock productions, even when I was younger. When I saw Peter Pan I knew something inside of me said “You’re an actor, you want to be on stage, to make changes in the future of theatre worlds -- diversity and inclusion! “

The teacher asked us to pick an actor from the play and be a pen pal. I didn't know who I wanted, but I thought the actor who played Smee was excellent.  I picked him, but it turned out to be “she”:  it was Jane Staab, founder, casting director, and actress at Wheelock Family Theatre.  She and I would write letters every week, until one day I told her I wanted to be on stage. She said the current production was already cast, but if I was planning to see any production soon to let her know.  I told her that the school and I were planning to see Tuck Everlasting.  I met her after show. She was in her costume.  She told me, “Why don't you come and audition for The Wizard of Oz?” I did, and got cast. At the audition, I had no idea about acting or how to audition. You know what is funny? Jane and I have same birthday!  After that, there is a magic........

What is your history with Suzan Zeder’s work?

I had no clue of who she was until I did the play Mother Hicks at Regis with Wendy (Lement), who directed that show.  It was a great experience because I fell in love with the play itself, involving a Deaf character that leads and tell a story.  I remember I wrote an email to Suzan Zeder, and told her how much I loved this play and hoped to meet her in person. I never thought it would be happening, that I would be meeting her....  It’s almost like she is this person I have been waiting to meet ever since I was young.  I am curious what she will think of our production and of me as Tuc.

What is it like playing the same character in three different plays over the course of a month?

All three plays are remarkably moving. They are such beautiful plays!  Every time I read all three plays, I cry and cry again. I see Tuc’s journey as transformative. I see myself like Tuc on certain levels – in terms of which community he really fit in, and how he fits in as a man differently than when he was a young man.  I really hope the audience will see through Tuc’s eyes and mind, feel his pain, his love, and his humanity.

What is your advice to a Deaf person who wants to become an actor?

Work hard.  Don't give up. Work with many Deaf and hearing actors and directors.  Learn their craft. Take some training. I encourage Deaf artists to write more plays about Deaf experience in the hearing world, families, and community; more Deaf artists to become directors, designers, and acting teachers in hearing theatres; to create more awareness and more opportunities for themselves in theatre.

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