A Deaf Perspective

The Last Chance New Play Fest in Helena Montana is currently seeking new 10-minute plays by Montana playwrights on the theme “Genetically Modified.” I racked my brain trying to come up with an idea. All I could see was two stalks of corn talking with their “feet” rooted in the ground and a pumpkin walking past. They would be at odds as to why corn wasn’t uprooted when a pumpkin had so much freedom. Of course, the pumpkin would be tethered by a vine, but then it wasn’t stuck standing in one spot. I wondered what both the corn stalks and the pumpkin might do when they figured out they were all intended for the table. I scrapped that idea. Then something clicked. I turned my attention to more serious consequences of human genetic modification, what with all the CRISPR controversy. A lot of the argument seems simple. Wouldn’t you want to protect your baby from disease and deformation? And as an adult, to look back on advances in bio technology, if you didn’t receive those benefits, would you hold it against your parents? But nothing is ever that cut and dry. I remembered a story I’d read years ago while still living full-time in Danville, Kentucky. I coached acting in an open space at the School for the Deaf and several of our performances had deaf interpreters. With increased interaction with the Deaf community I became more aware of news articles that involved the Deaf. A story that intrigued me most was a debate about cochlear implants. It would never have occurred to me that a deaf person would not choose to hear if the technology was available. But I was wrong. As a hearing person it took some time to understand the perspective of some deaf persons who did not see being deaf as a disability, but from what I could ascertain, saw it as just another “way of being.” Now, with advanced Genome editing technology, it isn’t difficult to imagine that “other ways of being” could be eliminated altogether. The fact that multiple online forums now discuss this issue, it was easy to do research to see how this technology was perceived in the Deaf community. Phrases like “assault on the Deaf lifestyle” and words like “genocide” popped up repeatedly. And from that, the idea for my play, “Lens” was born. “Lens” finds a young deaf husband and wife who both want a baby in conflict as to whether to use genetic modification to ensure their child would hear. The husband, who became deaf as a teen due to an accident and his wife, who has been deaf since birth, bring totally opposing perspectives to the argument. I am excited to see this play, entitled “Lens” performed in November. I think the hearing audience will be as surprised as I once was when considering the possibility that anyone would choose not to hear. Although I do not to take a side, I hope “Lens” causes people to think. And I am confident that deaf actress, Anna Haslund will embody a perspective seldom considered by the hearing world as her impassioned plea to allow nature to make the choice falls onto deaf ears.