The following interview of Troy Kotsur, Paul Raci, and Stephen Sachs by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).
Biographical Information—Troy Totsur, Paul Raci, & Stephen Sachs
Troy Kotsur was born and raised in the city of Mesa, Arizona. He has been deaf since his birth. He went to Gallaudet University to major in Theater from 1987-1989. Additionally, he attended Mesa College, Pierce College and American River College to study acting and was an intern at KTSP-TV in Phoenix, Arizona working as an editor, researcher and interviewer. Troy has been involved with many Deaf West shows, including the 2003 Broadway revival of Big River as Pap/The Duke. He has performed principal roles in Orphans, Medea, Equus and Sleuth with Bernard Bragg and Romeo and Juliet, Verona Circus and Mice and Men. He traveled coast to coast in the USA with the National Theater of the Deaf, as well as in Northern Ireland and South Africa.
Troy received two awards from Los Angeles Weekly and the 8th annual Artistic Director Achievement Award, Valley Theater League of California for the leading actor in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. He was nominated for his leading role in A Streetcar Named Desire by the Los Angeles Drama Circle Critics award, as well. He has been nominated by Los Angeles Ovation for Featured Actor in a Musical in Oliver! performed at the Deaf West Theater. While at Gallaudet University, he was awarded Best Actor for his role as Sepp Schmitz in The Firebugs and as Kurt Paxton in In a Room Somewhere. In 2012 Troy was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Play for his lead role as Cyrano.
Television roles include Whoopi Goldberg’s Strong Medicine on Lifetime. He guest starred in 6 episodes of his wife’s show Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye. He also was on the special deaf themed episode of CSI: NY. Troy guest starred on the television series Doc as a deaf baseball player. He has played the character of a deaf child’s father in Scrubs.
Troy’s passion for directing dates back to his 17th year. In spite of being accepted into two notable film schools, the cost of an interpreter made it prohibitive. However, Troy did not give up. He pursued acting instead, aware that many actors transition into directing later in life. By 2005, Troy was writing, editing, producing and directing both theater and film. He continued his apprenticeship with a two-year internship at MaryStoneHouse Productions (Toronto ON) and three years with Sue Thomas at FBEYE (Dave Johnson, Gary Johnson & Joan Johnson). Troy spent four months at TV AZ PHX Channels and CBS News Editing, as both Researcher and Interviewer.
His first short-film GOT MATCHES premiered at the Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival, May 2011. He directed 10 episodes of Deaf Nation’s series, SUPERDEAFY. Other productions include Aesop Who?, 3 Musketeers, Eye, The Ugly Duckling and Aladdin at the multi-award winning Deaf West Theatre. While his wife, Deanne Bray, enjoyed three-years in the title role of SUE THOMAS FBEYE, Troy seized the opportunity to shadow directors, producers, DPs and Editors and was given unprecedented access and support in learning the craft of directing.
Films directed by Troy Kotsur include The Eye, Ray’s Potion, Got Matches, You’re Pregnant, What to Expect, the Adventures of Superdeafy, FBEYE, Aesop’s Who, 365 Days, For Love of Ducks, 3 Musketeers & the Cook, The Eye, Jealousy, Where the Cross Made, Aladdin & the Wonderful Lamp and Red Flower.
Troy brings his authentic vision and perspective to his latest film project, DEAF GHOST (2013), taking the audience on a spectacular visual and visceral ride, while the rest of his stellar team are poised and honored to be Troy Kostur’s ‘ears.’
Paul Raci is a Chicago born and bred actor and a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). After graduating from the University of Illinois, he studied at Second City and performed with several improvisational troupes. He was a founding member of The Immediate Theatre where he was nominated for Best Actor in Children of a Lesser God. Paul has been in over 10 Deaf West productions including Mice and Men and Cyrano, both with Troy Kotsur. Next up is the filming of Paul (and Angela Murphy’s) screenplay, Deaf Ghost, with Troy directing. Paul has appeared in over 30 television shows and films, done a ton of theatre, but his first love is being the lead singer and signer in the world’s only Deaf rock and roll band, Beethoven’s Nightmare.
POETS CAFÉ – CYRANO
A co-production of Deaf West and Fountain Theater
|Poets Café opens with a performance of the newly envisioned fight scene as acted and signed in American Sign Language by Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) and interpreted and spoken by Paul Raci (Chris, Cyrano’s brother).|
|CYRANO:||My Coat! Remove! Unwrap the gift. My fighting trim hands, sharp and swift. Magnificent from toe to head, a silhouette you fear with dreadmuscles rip, my six-pack firm
the bate to hook you like a worm.
Beware! I give no warning sign.
But on my final sign, sign off!
A call to arms up hands, palms reach
observe – two squads, five warriors each.
Sound the alarm, the battle call. Attack!
Your back against the wall. Ten soldiers charge,
hand over fist, sign of defeat
and on my final sign, sign off.
Sign as we spar, hand over fist
a lethal slap upon the wrist.
Before your head can comprehend
my fingers spell your timely end.
They knock your noggin just for fun
and check your vital signs when done
and on my final sign, sign off.
You stagger, you teeter, you cringe,
you sweat! Words skewer my bird
and taste when done. The leg, the thigh
the wing, the breast.
See how my hand floats light as air
it knocks you backward to the chair.
A vehicle of your demise and as I drive
head traffic signs – what was that?
a deaf end! And on my final sign, sign off.
You stagger, you teeter, you cringe, you sweat!
A sign of weakness, do not fret. I finish soon
but not quite yet. A turn of hand, a pirouette,
my final blow sends your teeth aloft
and on my final sign, sign off!
|Lois||Welcome to Poets Café! This is host Lois P. Jones and we’re in the studio with playwright Steven Sachs, actors Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci all from the new Cyrano currently at the Fountain Theater in Los Angeles in co-production with the Deaf West Theater. That first poem that you heard was actually from the fight scene. It’s a takeoff from the classic Cyrano play by Rostand and it’s now newly re-envisioned by playwright Steven Sachs as a production for hearing and non-hearing persons and Cyrano has come to life in what ways Stephen? Welcome, by the way!|
|Stephen||Oh thank you! It’s great to be here. Thanks for having us. What I’ve done is I’ve taken the original Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand which was written in 1897 for those who may not know. It’s about a poet and swordsman, a nobleman who was very gallant and full of ego and confidence except he has this enormous nose which is sort of the cause of his own self-doubt and what I’ve done is I’ve taken that original play and adapted it and kind of reimagined it and set it in contemporary Los Angeles in 2012 and have changed Cyrano. I’ve made him now a brilliant deaf poet who signs brilliantly and have changed it from being about a poet and his nose to a poet and his hands.|
|Lois||Yes. For any of our listeners out there who don’t know Cyrano my suggestion is to go see this play! It will bring all the layers to life in a newly envisioned way with new technology too in fact that we know of today. It’s not the Cyrano of the 1800’s but the Cyrano with Facebook and the Cyrano who is able to communicate in ways in which our technology allows us.|
|Stephen||Absolutely. In our production there are really three languages at work. There is the spoken English, there’s the brilliance of American Sign Language which is so visual and vivid and alive and there’s also e-language, electronic language which is used in the play through a network of television monitors, of video monitors so we are bringing also all of the modern technology into this reimagining of the play. So we use Facebook and Twitter and texting as other forms of communication in this world that our present day Cyrano finds himself in and feels kind of out of place in. In our production of Cyrano, Cyrano sort of feels a bit like a fish out of water who doesn’t belong in either world. He doesn’t feel he belongs in the hearing world community or completely in the deaf community. He is an old soul who harkens back to a more romantic era and feels out of place in this modern time of Facebook and Twitter and technology. So that was another element of the story that I’m playing with.|
|Lois||Right. And I can really identify with that! (laughter)|
|Stephen||So can I!|
|Lois||I thought, no Cyrano! Don’t go to Facebook please!|
|Lois||And yet, you know, it’s an effective vehicle because it allows him to convey his love for Roxy and it also gives him the opportunity – well gives us the opportunity as hearing persons to be able to visually see some of the texts on the screens and so on. It’s really a brilliant adaption of the play because there’s somewhat of a disconnect with the nonhearing world that many of us have. We’re not aware, you know, that there’s theater going on, that there’s creative arts going on and here you’ve brought this fabulous play and it has all these elements which allow hearing people to interact as well as nonhearing people with the actors and with the idea of expressing one’s self.|
|Stephen||It just felt like a natural fit. It’s sort of the perfect metaphor I think for this story because so much of it is about how do we communicate how we feel. It’s about language and Cyrano’s inability to express his soul to the woman he loves and what is the barrier that is keeping him from doing that. Of course in the original it was his own self-image, his physical self-image, thinking himself ugly and unappealing even though his heart was gorgeous, you know and that’s true of our present day Cyrano as well I think. He has his own self-doubt and so making this a story about deafness and sign language and communication and language and for the audience to be able to see these two languages simultaneously spoken in English and signed in American Sign Language, plus with all the video elements involved, it just makes for a very rich poetic language-driven experience that audiences are just really loving.|
|Lois||Very rich. And the poetry is so well expressed not only through the dialogue, the hearing dialogue but of course through the auspices of our great Cyrano, Troy who is magnificent in Cyrano. I put him with up there with Jose Ferrer, you know – who happens to be my favorite Cyrano – I don’t know if he’s my favorite Cyrano – but he’s probably – he’s at the top and then there is Depardieu who is also magnificent in a different way.|
|Stephen||Ferrer was my favorite.|
|Lois||….many many times. I’ve watched him as a child, I watched the black and white film many times and until now….I know. And Troy I want to ask you so many questions because you have inhabited this character so fully and deeply and I’d like to know what Cyrano means to you and Paul who has played Cyrano’s brother, Chris in the play – you’ll be hearing his voice on behalf of Troy.|
|Troy||Yes. Well what is Cyrano really – why is it special to me? Well, you have the same parallels that he was going through because today – of course 90 percent of people really know nothing about the deaf culture and sign language and ASL. They think it’s a small population, thats it’s really nothing, but Cyrano has a very strong back message for people. They can look at themselves – am I prejudiced? Do I have a judgment about people and things and cultures? This story seems to make us reexamine ourselves, our own feelings and where the gaps are and that’s what the story is about. Trying to bridge those gaps and make a connection and today, you know what’s great about Cyrano – that he wants to bring all that he has and try to understand what American Sign Language poetry really means and so he’s even searching it for himself. And even with Chris, his brother, he’s my golden voice. When he looks at me sign – together we become one. We become whole and it’s a beautiful message. It’s a beautiful story of brotherly love. Because you know, Chris by himself, he sucks, he can’t speak. He can’t express himself (laughter). He needs me to sign on the air and I make him brilliant! And it’s a beautiful relationship. It really is. And there’s such a connection. Also with Roxy. My brother and I we become one when we’re trying to convey our message to Roxy. A hearing person knows nothing about sign language. A lot of these audiences – when they see how Cyrano expresses himself in American Sign Language through Chris to Roxy it’s an amazing thing.|
|Lois||It is an amazing thing and it gives you that deep connection that tells you there is music and communication beneath words. That poetry is really for me the intention that comes through much more than actually the symbols of words – which words are just representative of right?|
|Troy||Exactly. Words in English. Every word has a certain word order to make it sound very smooth but in sign language it’s also very smooth. Also very visual. There are words there but there’s a different kind of fluidness to it that you can actually see visually and our goal was of course to match the English to the sign language and of course I was working very hard to make the American Sign Language become very alive so that you’d almost rather just see it then hear it. It’s sort of a strange competition between the two languages.|
|Troy||–to make them both as beneficial to both audiences. After the show a lot of people have no idea still to this day that American Sign Language is a language onto itself with its own symmetry, its own word order, its own grammar, its own structure. People have no idea what’s happening.|
|Lois||Right. I actually thought about that. The idea that there’s so much beauty – and again to encourage audiences to come and see this play while it’s still there – they’ve been getting rave reviews, packed audiences and you need to see for yourself the visual beauty that’s expressed in this classic character whom we love so well. In order to fully realize what can be done – and in a sense I was thinking – how can we – I’m going off subject here for a little bit – but there was a silent film that just came out recently called The Artist. Which was magnificent.|
|Lois||— and I thought why couldn’t we have something where in the deaf community they could actually do a film like that and we could read the words so we wouldn’t necessarily – it’s almost like I want to see the beauty and to live in that beauty that’s just known through our eyes as opposed to our ears. Your play sparked that idea and I hope that there will be actual projects like that coming forth. Stephen I don’t know if you’ve ever considered anything like that before but…you know the idea of something like that…|
|Stephen||Well there may be deaf film makers who are making films that are purely signed and entirely captioned now perhaps but in the writing of this play that was really the challenge for me as the writer. I have some experience with sign language. I’m not fluent but kind of conversational but I have some familiarity with the language. I’ve written plays with deaf themes before so in the writing of this play because it’s about a brilliant poet and about poetry in both languages, I was trying to write this script with the sign language in mind thinking about how is this going to be signed but even so, it was a tremendous challenge for all of us. For Troy and for our two ASL masters, Tai Jiordano and Shoshanna Stern. How do you translate English into sign language? Some of it was easy and some of it was very very difficult and I had the ASL translators and the actors say this is brilliant language, I love the language but there is no kind of sign equivalent to what you’re saying in this phrase. How do we best find the sign that matches what you’re trying to express in the written word? And trying to find those matching equivalents was just really fascinating and really a challenge.|
|Lois||Were any signs invented for the play in order to be able to express yourself?|
|Stephen||Well maybe Troy can speak to that.|
|Troy||Most of the time in the process, as an actor, especially with the poem – the first thing is I would have to read the English and understand what the meaning was. Once I understood what the poem meant then I could play with signs, in the air and find out what the meaning would be as an equivalent. I have to be aware of my voice also. Sometimes there was many more words than there were signs so we’d have to match that or time it out so the meaning would still be there to match the meaning of what the English speaking actor was doing. Sho and Tai are masters. They were our deaf eye and the director had a hearing eye and as they watched the play together over and over during the rehearsal process they could get the overall picture but it had to be conveyed and what was going to work for both audiences. Sometimes – it was a lot of work – take notes – this works, this doesn’t work and finally getting it all together so that they kind of came together as a whole piece and it does take time. It’s a process. It took a very long time.|
|Stephen||And I just want to say what a joy it was for me to watch Troy in rehearsal because I mean Troy is just a brilliant actor and he’s so inventive and creative. He’s sort of almost a Robin Williams (laughter) style of player —|
|Stephen||–so expressive and that to watch him in rehearsal as we were working through the language and he would do a scene five different times and sign it five different ways and each way was more creative and more fun. Making up new signs and playing with the language and improvising and kind of dancing around it – it was just a thrill for me as a writer to watch him bring all of this to life in his magical way.|
|Lois||We’re here in the studio today with our guest Stephen Sachs, Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci and we’re talking about the fantastic new Cyrano that’s at the Fountain Theater – this is host Lois P. Jones at Poets Café and I wanted to ask you a little bit more about Cyrano. Who is favorite Cyrano and did you see the silent film version? Are you familiar with the silent film version? Curious.|
|Troy||Yes. Are you talking about the silent movie I did see that one. I saw Joe Fotis – he played Cyrano? He won the best actor?|
|Lois||Is this the one from the 1920’s?|
|Troy||No that one I did not see.|
|Lois||Oh my God you must see this one! Do you know this one Stephen?|
|Troy||I didn’t even know there was a silent one.|
|Lois||Oh this is one of the most beautiful Cyranos – please do see it. My friend who is going to be 90 on July 2nd told me about. The person who plays Cyrano was trained under the fellow that played the original Cyrano in the Rostand play and it took them two years. They used a special process to layer the films with color, the music is a classical composition to accompany the play – it’s one of the most gorgeous – you’ll love this Cyrano – they all are different. Every Cyrano brings something different. Of course you know there was the comedy, Roxanne which love right?|
|Stephen||Right with Steve Martin.|
|Lois||Yeah exactly and the tale as we know never gets old and it brings as you say this opportunity for us to understand more about the deaf world but also it has that metaphor for everyone – anybody that thinks there’s a disability, you know some disadvantage that they have – I can’t do this – I’m too overweight, or I’m too old. I mean these are things where people feel like I’m not able to accomplish what I want. You know what I mean?|
|Stephen||I do. I do. I think that’s really personified in the character that Paul plays. Chris who is Cyrano’s brother. I mean Cyrano’s struggle may be more visually obvious being a deaf character who signs. Chris has his own self-doubt and is struggling with his own demons and fear and there’s a beautiful scene in the play where the true brothers confront each other and a lot of this comes out and is expressed. Maybe Paul wants to speak a little bit about Chris.|
|Lois||Yes please do. I loved what you did with the character. That scene that he’s talking about is so poignant and different and brought out another aspect of how one person can envy another for their qualities right?|
|Stephen||Exactly. What I really wanted to in this new version – especially with the character of Chris was to make it a love story between two brothers as well as between Cyrano and Roxy. So maybe Paul wants to speak about that.|
|Paul||Yes well I think of that scene – I think everybody looks at it with their own brothers or family in mind because there’s something going on there and I think part of that is that Troy and I have a relationship for over 20 years now. We’ve known each other and we feel very – we’ve always had a strong connection even though maybe we hadn’t seen each other for five years or so – he’d be busy, I’d be busy and then we’d see each other again and you’d see that – like we just saw each other yesterday. So that brotherly connection I think is kind of obvious on stage.|
|Lois||It absolutely is. You feel that bond really well.|
|Paul||And all I can say is there is a bond.|
|Lois||And both of your parents were deaf Paul, is that right?|
|Lois||So what was surprising for me to hear is Troy – in a beautiful, eloquent way of expressing this unity two people can have speaking and non-speaking and you could feel that in the play – is that something that is real to you growing up in the nonhearing world?|
|Paul||Oh absolutely. Yeah. That’s why. Stephen wrote a role that’s for me – a once in a lifetime opportunity to show who I am with deaf parents and how I grew up in a deaf community and so there – that’s kind of what’s at the heart of it for me – to have this very real connection and to be able to show or express it in artistic ways. It’s awesome.|
|Lois||You’ve been working with the Deaf West Theater for some time – other productions with Troy —|
|Paul||Oh yeah, many. I think I’ve done over eleven I think now.|
|Lois||Is this your central focus or do you do other non–|
|Paul||No – I’m a sign language interpreter – I work in the legal system and as an actor so I just go between both worlds. So this, opportunity does not come often.|
|Lois||One thing you said was that sign language was your first language.|
|Paul||Yes. My native tongue.|
|Lois||Your native tongue. I think that’s beautiful. Do you feel you can express yourself better in sign language– because as poets we’re all struggling to say things and that inner world is so difficult to convey and I would think a deaf person one would be so much closer to the ineffable in certain ways.|
|Paul||There’s definitely – you know I can’t explain it but yes I express myself differently having deaf parents. Those of us – we call ourselves CODAs. Child of Deaf Adults and so we go to conventions together, we have organizations that we get involved with each other and one of the jokes is that what we have all in common is that we’re very loud people (laughter). We’re very loud, rude obnoxious but maybe each culture has that.|
|Lois||You know I don’t want to add a spoiler in there Stephen but you know there’s a scene at one point when Troy is being talked out of not being with Roxy because he would have to take his time – kind of slow down and explain himself and I wonder if that really is an issue in the? – yes, Troy is nodding.|
|Troy||Yes. For sure. My past experience dating hearing women when I was young. I would get excited and then I’d try to teach them my language so we’d get together (laughter) and then they’re missing half of everything I’m trying to say (laughter). It would be a short date but (clears throat)…that’s another story. But it depends on the person. You do have to take your time like Paul was saying. Growing up with the deaf family. I mean with parents who are deaf, then you’ve already got it in you, but to learn it as another second language you’ve got to get involved with the culture, with people. It’s nothing you can learn in a book. If you have a proclivity —|
|Lois||It’s like going to another country. It’s the same thing.|
|Lois||— it’s an immersion. You won’t get it just by practicing your letters or whatever because there’s such nuance there.|
|Troy||Totally. That’s it. It’s cultural. Exactly.|
|Lois||But you’re not prejudiced against hearing people (laughs). We’re allowed to be in your club?|
|Troy||Well it depends on how you interpret that?|
|Stephen||Well the wonderful thing about it too and there’s a very special moment in the play as well toward the end after you’ve experienced three quarters of this play that is signed and spoken simultaneously bi-lingually so it’s completely accessible whether you’re hearing or deaf – anybody can enjoy it and understand it and follow it. There’s one moment toward the end where all spoken word stops and there’s a silent moment where a poem is purely signed in sign language, in American Sign Language in ASL by a deaf actress with no voice interpretation at all. It’s purely silent, purely visual, quiet, powerful and even if you don’t know sign language you feel the energy of the poem and it’s very moving and powerful. You may not understand every word that is being signed but you certainly respond emotionally to what you’re seeing and feeling and that’s, you know, the beauty of the language.|
|Lois||That’s the beauty of the language and that’s the beauty of poetry because even in poetry itself when you go to readings there are many times when you don’t know the exact meaning of things or what that person is conveying but you intuit.|
|Lois||And that is the universal which we can all share together. Stephen how can people know how to get in touch. Where can they do? What can they do?|
|Stephen||To get tickets you call 323-663-1525 or you can go to our website which is fountaintheater.com.|
|Lois||I highly recommend – please run – do not wait to see this play and let me add the great news that Cyrano has been extended through July 29th. There will be no further extensions because the next play is coming to Fountain Theater so this is your last chance to see this fabulous play. I’m Lois P. Jones and my guests today have been Stephen Sachs, Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci and you’ve been listening to Poets Café on KPFK, Pacifica Radio for all of Southern California and Beyond.|