Alex Jones has hardly been out of work since he moved here eight years ago -“ a remarkable achievement for any actor or director.
He played a guest role on All Saints for six months, formed his own production company and directed numerous productions. He’s currently managing an international cultural festival and tours schools performing in his own plays.
He’s also deaf, and first came to Australia as a guest artist with the Australian Theatre of the Deaf (ATD).
It was a two-year contract -“ but I fell in love, Jones says. I fell in love with Sydney, the gay community, with friends -¦ I lived in New York, but I thought you can’t have a beach, the city, the opera, the park, in one day [in New York].
Jones successfully applied for permanent residency, found himself a devoted boyfriend and hasn’t looked back.
The latest project is the workshopping of a new play for ATD that concerns a group of friends on a road trip to a music festival. The cast includes characters who are hearing, deaf and one of whom has a cochlear implant. One of these characters aspires to be a singer and is in for a rude shock.
Performed in Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and English, There & Back is also a meditation on the various conflicts and prejudices within the deaf community -“ some of which Jones sees reflected (or perhaps refracted) in a variety of cultures.
It plays a lot on identity and who you are and who you should not be. For instance the gay community criticises bisexuals, that they can’t be bisexual, that they have to be either one or the other, Jones says. It’s the same in the deaf community. We say you can’t be -˜hard of hearing’ or -˜hearing impaired’, and be in the deaf community.
It’s a prejudice Jones knows too well.
I define myself as deaf with a capital D because that is my identity. My parents are deaf, I grew up in a deaf culture -¦ Sign language is my first language, he says.
But I can hear because I wear a hearing aid. That’s who I am -“ I’m not going to deny the fact that I can hear. I know many deaf people who come from deaf families who can hear very well but choose not to, because there is pressure from the deaf community.
But that’s not what it’s about -¦ They are allowed to appreciate music, I’m allowed to go to the opera when I want. If I fall asleep, who cares! he laughs.
The play is also proving challenging because the work is not written in English, but in Auslan, which Jones explains is not a written language.
For example, Jones presents a draft of the play that includes the line Bother it.
It means -˜it doesn’t bother me’ or -˜I don’t let it affect me’. But it’s one sign, he explains, then signs bother it.
There & Back will no doubt have greater resonances for deaf communities, although Jones has also worked in more mainstream worlds. During his six months on All Saints, he played a deaf character who developed a crush on a nurse and died tragically.
I’m still friends with some of them, like Georgie, Libby [Tanner] and Jenni Baird -¦ We still keep in touch, even though I died, he smiles.
Then Jones has to go. He has a show that afternoon of his theatre-in-education play and there’s more work to be done preparing for the upcoming cultural festival for the Deaflympics.
Everything’s happening at the same time, he says. I’m very excited.
There & Back is playing at the Sidetrack Studio Theatre, Hut 9, 142 Addison Road, Marrickville, on Friday 9 July
at 7:30pm, with buffet dinner from 6:30pm. SMS 0421 828 222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.