9/15 – Diversity and Klack and Roe / by Eric Emma

Last night, I rode the train home with Chinaza, he voices Lex/S’Cally, as we had just wrapped up recording on “Klack and Roe”—IT IS SOUNDING AWESOME. While on the train, I explained the genesis of “Klack and Roe.” After I got through explaining all the bizarre and crazy twists/turns that Jake and I have planned, the conversation surprisingly turned to my parents’ deafness and the influence that had on my writing and creating the show.

For those that may not know, the story of Klack and Roe chronicles Roe, our moustache-less, angle-less hero, who is the only circle in a land run by oppressive triangles. My experience as a child trying to make sense of why my parents were often treated with indifference (or worse, disgust) by the hearing world is the bedrock for “Klack and Roe.”  Growing up, I think our sole-refuge from the world as a family was film and television. A land of heroes and grand plots, where things always resolved and we didn’t have to be reminded of the injustices of the world. For that reason, it’s always been such a big deal for me to share my work with my parents. So as I was explaining all this to Chinaza, a bittersweet feeling began to gnaw at me.

For some reason, I always forget the amount of time it takes to bring a film to life. Every piece of “Klack and Roe” has had hours of discussions/tweaking over the development cycle and their voices are no exception. From audition to the rehearsal to the individual recording sessions, we have created and developed the characters that populate “Klack and Roe.” A shout-out to Pedro Francisco Marnoto, voice director, who has been a compass to Jake, I, and the actors in keeping the heart of the show always at the forefront. And this is what was so bittersweet that we have put so much work into the voices of these characters and my parents won’t be able to hear it.

However, therein lies the greatest thing that my parents taught me, which is that we need to love who we are and we can’t focus on what we’re not, but what we are. While there are things that my parents won’t experience, the way they see the world and the skills they’ve gain from being deaf are so uniquely special to them. The communication the deaf have is something a hearing person will never truly understand or experience, even if they learn sign-language. So while it’s disheartening that they may never be able to hear Chinaza, Abraham, Tahlia, or Mark, they’ll be able to enjoy the show on a visual and thematic level. It’d be a disservice not to mention the amazing work that David Koh did on the designs/world and the early work I’ve seen from Manolo Moreno has been great.  So the more I think about my parents’ deafness the more I begin to examine the profound and positive impact it’s had on me and “Klack and Roe.”

To be blunt, my parents’ deafness put a horseshoe up my ass about trying to meet and be as accepting as possible and it’s what brought me to New York. I live for meeting so many beautiful human beings and experiencing things like UCB’S Lady Jam, Arlene’s Grocery’s The Lesson, or the gazillion other crazy things this city has to offer. I don’t think it’s talked about enough, but one of the chief issues that Hollywood has is the trickle-down effect of people not having diverse social circles. Diversity in casting, writing rooms, and other jobs is not going to happen unless we open our social circles to all people. In that regard, I’ve thought a great deal of why I’ve felt a tinge of pride in this cast beyond their amazing talent. The source of this pride is beyond the simple pride of having a cast that is primarily African American, but rather, HOW this casting came to be.

When we sent out invites for folks to come in and audition for parts on the show, we sent the invitations based entirely on referrals from out associates and friends.  The audition process when I look backed could be used in a weird way as a reflection of our social lives as most of the folks that came in, I had seen in one fashion or another at various parties, events, etc. You can’t escape this fact that while talent plays a huge part in getting a gig, who you know also does and who you know is obviously attached to the people you’re hanging out with socially.

As I noted in a previous blog post, we didn’t put any gender restrictions on any of the roles so we really let the process show us the best candidates. When I look at the cast, it’s not about race, gender, etc that fills me with pride, but rather that it’s I’m taking a step towards my goal of being an artist that has access to the widest possible amount of talent possible regardless of those factors. And more importantly, I’m promoting values of acceptance and love, not only through the art that I’m producing, but also, through how I’m producing that art. And, I owe that in large part to my parents who also happen to be deaf.

 “Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.” Alfred Hitchcock