Interview by Laura Ng
Urban Jazz Dance Company founder Antoine Hunter, an African American Deaf choreographer/dancer/ambassador/model/actor/poet, shares his remarkable story in working across social spheres and languages of expression.
|TBA featured member Antoine Hunter.
Tell us about your artistic path and process.
The Oakland Ensemble Theatre were the ones who told me I have a huge voice in writing plays. I began writing plays there while I was at Skyline High School [where] I was known as “Black Shakespeare” because someone always died in my scripts. My first script, Fly Away, was presented by OET, directed by Donald Lacy, and later Love Life Foundation [again] under Donald Lacy. Fly Away was about two teenagers, a Deaf boy who had a beautiful hearing girlfriend, who’d both just entered high school. Even with all the years they’d been best friends, the hearing girlfriend is being pulled away and in the middle of their troubles, there is a gang fight; one of them dies. This play was meant for people to understand we are all seeking love, that we all die and feel pain, that we need to stop the hate and find a way to coexist. These roles were meant for Deaf and African American [performers], however, they have been performed by hearing people of many races. My writing has been performed all over California.
After many years, I decided to focus on dancing. I performed in Peru, London, Cuba, Africa and much more. It was easier; I didn't have to work eight times as hard to read someone’s lips. I used to [memorize] the whole script, but sometimes fell into embarrassment because someone forgot their line, or changed [it], and I ended up looking bad. Being the only deaf actor in plays is just insanely unfair to me, but in dance I had a fighting chance. I danced with numbers of dance companies while I would randomly go see theatre plays. My joy for dance grew larger and larger while I was wishing it was me performing at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre or Beach Blanket Babylon. A few people thought I was too brilliant not to act, so I began doing short and long films, plus music videos, as an actor, dancer, choreographer, director and producer.
Favorite project/production that you were part of or inspired by?
I performed leading roles in John Henry, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Raisin in the Sun, School Daze, Black Nativity and more. No matter where, I loved doing plays that had roles for people of color. There are not enough roles for people of color. I used to refuse playing white man roles because I wanted the director or writer to make it fit my ethnic culture. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.
What advice would you like to share with an emerging theatre professional (or an earlier you)?
Stay true to yourself and don’t lose hope. You don’t have to look for companies that fit your need, you can create companies that fit your need.
What do you like about the Bay Area theatre scene, and being a TBA member?
One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is its value toward arts and the people who share and create art. I had performed in a number of theatres, and from small companies to big companies, all agree: without the arts, the world would lose its own atmosphere to breathe, to live free. Life onstage taught me so much for life offstage. Oddly enough, my theatre people don’t know I am a dancer, my dance people don’t know I am also an actor, both don’t know me as songwriter-playwright. My values remain the same in all cases: to bring arts alive. I let people know in my bio I did them all.
Anything coming up soon that you are excited about?
Today I am happy to say I am finally getting back to my love of theatre. I am the founder of DeVinci’s Deaf Loud Dance Theatre. All performances will be Deaf cast. I’ll be working on Othello and a few other things; we did a few shows already and people love us. We will be performing for Bay Area Deaf Dance Festival, the opening weekend of San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, [as well as at] the Green Show at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, East Side Arts Alliance and so much more. I am excited because I am at place where my vision can come freely, fitting all kinds of roles but making more work and roles for Deaf people and people of color.
Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community.