Truly embodying meaning - podcast
Mikey Webb is the energetic Auslan interpreter who has become a household face thanks to daily COVID updates from the Queensland Government. But when he's not telling Queenslanders about the latest lockdown, he’s working with us to share our stories with members of the D/deaf and hard of hearing communities. On this episode of the Queensland Theatre Quality Time podcast, our Artistic Director Lee Lewis talks to Mikey to learn how he found his way onto our stage as an Auslan interpreter and how it’s possible to interpret a production as big and as complex as Hamilton.
[Intro music] |Host: Hi you're listening to the Queensland Theatre Quality Time podcast. Let me set the scene:
Mikey Webb is the energetic Auslan interpreter who has become a household face, thanks to daily covid updates from the Queensland Government. But when he's not telling Queenslanders about the latest lockdown, he's working with us to share our stories with members of the deaf and hard of hearing communities on this episode of the Queensland Theatre Quality Time podcast our Artistic Director, Lee Lewis, talks to Mikey to learn how he found his way onto our stage as an Auslan interpreter and how it's possible to interpret a production as big and as complex as Hamilton. All right, enjoy.
Lee Lewis: Hi everyone. I'm Lee Lewis, the Artistic Director here at Queensland Theatre and thank you for joining me for another episode of the Queensland Theatre Quality Time podcast.
Uh we're having a conversation here on the lands of the Yagerra and Turrbal people. Stories have been created and made and shared on these lands for tens of thousands of years and it's an extraordinary privilege to be in conversation on these lands and we pay our respects to elders past and present who have continued the conversation for all of that time and made sure that there is a continuity in the world's oldest culture.
I am talking today with Mikey Webb who is one of our partners in great theatre-making uh and a partner, it wouldn't necessarily be foregrounded unless you happen to come to one of the nights when he was interpreting one of the productions for the deaf and hard of hearing audience. So you might have been at the theatre and seen him standing in the spotlight, usually partnered up with someone else, sharing the load. Uh and creating, creating, an accessible version of the script for people who cannot necessarily hear it.
Lee: Welcome Mikey Webb
Mikey: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me,
Lee: Now, that was my kind of like a little bit shit description of what it is that you do.
Mikey: No, no you're pretty accurate.
Lee: I see you as a as a beautiful performer on our stage. Um how would you describe what it is that you do?
Mikey: It is, I can just say it's just interpreting but it's not, it's really not just interpreting. It is getting the message, tone, nuance, everything across that a deaf person might be able to see, but not necessarily hear,
that was going on. So that's our job and my job to make sure that they feel just as involved as everybody else.
Lee: This magic thing that you do that is interpretation, translation, performance, editing,
Mikey: You keep naming it and that's pretty much what we're doing.
Lee: And, you're doing it live.
Mikey: We're doing it live,
Lee: in a way that's prepared and impro,
Mikey: correct. Yes, because as much as we can sit down and learn a script and learn to play and watch it 15 times over. You can't memorize stuff like that. So it is just a lot of hearing it, going, yeah, that's what we're going to sign for this and all that sort of stuff that goes on.
Lee: How do you prepare to do it?
Mikey: I'm a big fan of watching an archival. Some people like to read a script. To me, scripts, are words on a page. I need to know the emotion behind it. I need to know characterization. Because a big part of our job is, especially when you've got a deaf person watching the interpreters and sort of scanning between the two of them, the easier you make it for them to know who's talking without having to look, the better. So I'll watch it just to see what a character sort of like stand like or just their tone of voice and stuff and then I embody them if that makes sense. So all that's going on while we're listening and then trying to make sure that, you know, we get the message across. And so I'm a big archival watcher. I like to watch it and sort of getting a feel for it that way.
Lee: Yeah. Right, how long have you been doing it?
Mikey: Um well, theatre interpreting hasn't been around that long, surprisingly, it was sort of back in the 20, 30 odd years ago, but it sort of just faded away. When those, the people that did it sort of inched towards retirement and they just fell away, but then Auslan stage left came along and saw the need and saw the void and went, we need to fix this [laughter] and fix it they did.
Lee: So how did you get into it?
Mikey: I, sheer dumb luck just, they saw me one day and went, oh, you have got some skill, I do a lot of music. I like to interpret music, that's my forte. And they just went here do you reckon you could do theatre and I was like, no
yes, Yes, you can.
Mikey: And then, yeah, low and behold there I was.
Lee: Yeah, right
Lee: of course, the music things make so much sense to me because when I'm watching you perform, there's an extraordinary musicality and what you're doing. And of course, I'm fascinated because I usually know the play quite well, especially if it's one that I've directed and I'm watching you, I'm watching you catch rhythms in the performers because I'm familiar with them, you're catching bits of it, you're riding the wave of it, you're adding to it and I can kind of see it at the same time.
Lee: So the music thing makes a lot of sense to me.
Mikey: Yeah, my first big show was Grease. I did this stage show Grease, which was the most sort of introduction to theatre and musicals and stuff. And because it was such a familiar performance, I was like, yeah, I've got this and then you sort of learning like the lips and then the way the conversation goes.
Mikey: It all just weaves together and you just sort of make it looks good out here somehow.
Mikey: I'm not sure how I do it, to be honest, I don't know.
Lee: Oh man,
Lee: I have not seen a musical interpreted, but that would be an extraordinary,
Lee: I'm just thinking of you doing Grease Lightning.
Mikey: Yeah, I got into it, it was good fun. Again, I have to make sure and then that's, that's the stuff you sort of pick up on, like the actions you got to make sure that you're sort of in time with them, if that makes sense. So there's a whole layer that people don't really take into account,
Lee: but they enjoy, you can see when you're doing your job well. Like that layer of enjoyment, you've got your audience and the difference is you're looking quite like right at your audience.
Mikey: So you can see if something hasn't made sense because you can see the frowns and stuff. So I tend not to wear my glasses. I don't want to know what's going on out there. [laughter] If I'm being, if I'm being shit that night, I don't want them going, what the hell is what's going on out there? I'm just like, no, I'm oblivious to it all.
Mikey: But yeah,
Lee: But now often you're teamed up with someone else so that there are the different voices and how much of that again have you rehearsed with that person?
Mikey: It is, it is all about timing. We call the thing, we call it 'bleed' where you know when two people talk over the top of each other, it's just like when two people sign is the same thing. So if they're sort of mid utterance and they haven't really signed what they need to say and I just jump in, it's going to look ugly. It doesn't make sense. So we try not to bleed with each other. So that is a lot of rehearsing. If I use Hamilton as, the example. So, so so fast.
Mikey: and so so incredible
Lee: I was about to say how did you, Daveed Diggs
Lee: I mean even just watching him on video and how fast that song comes out
Mikey: Oh it was incredible. I mean, the Aussies were a bit slower [laughter] but even still very, very quick. So we're very conscious. So we rehearsed for eight months for one show that Michelle and I just got together and was like summarizing but not summarizing. It was so hard, especially with such a dense play. And there's been a few with the Queensland Theatre Company where you don't want to discount what they're saying, but you've got to be so quick to get it out and sort of summarize it and not bleed. And yes, a lot of rehearsal does sort of go into those bigger, harder ones,
Lee: Hamilton. Hats off to you.
Mikey: highlight, the highlight of my career without a shadow of a doubt. It was just because we'd rehearsed it, we knew it, like we just, we knew we had this and then it was just like we did and it was like [gasp] actually worked because we were going, it's so quick and so late and so dances.
It's like, can we do it justice?
Um, it turns out we did.
So we were like, yay
Lee: was that filmed?
Mikey: They have a film of it,
Mikey: but for copyright laws can't actually do anything with it.
Lee: of you interpreting?
Mikey: they got us. The company has us.
Mikey: But they can't give it to us because of copyright law.
Lee: Of course
Mikey: which is so incredibly frustrating.
Lee: My God,
Lee: that is frustrating.
Mikey: So even with some of the bigger ones, like Michelle and I've done Aladdin and those things, we want to watch ourselves because you get the audience to say "Oh it's beautiful- -It's so good." It's like we want to know how we look, we want to make sure that we are meshing together properly.
We have our Auslan consultants sort of coming in as a deaf eye and they'll watch us and go, yeah, do this, do that.
But then they become familiar with it.
So you always think that sort of fresh set of eyes that's willing to be super critical and it's always hard to find.
So we like to sort of watch ourselves, we'll often film ourselves doing stuff and just go, yeah, that doesn't look good.
That looked good, oh the timing.
Lee: So self-directing going on,
Mikey: we sort of do as well.
Lee: Yeah, right
Mikey: there's a lot of
Lee: so you do if you're actually someone who really just wants to do all of the theatre, the writing, the directing, the acting, all of it, and the music included, it would be you.
Mikey: No, no, no, no I'm just the thing they go oh no that's too much work
Lee: as you're saying it, in essence that's what you're doing.
Mikey: in essence, yeah it is sort of what we are doing. Yeah, it's well, full-on
Lee: it's incredibly impressive when you see that happening in the play because that's what starts to happen and that's for the whole audience it becomes part of the landscape of the play and it's what's fascinating to me is actually how you pull a full audience into some moments in ways that the actual actors at that moment aren't necessarily,
Lee: it's not an upstage.
Mikey: No, I don't feel like I'm upstaging them
Lee: No, no, no, no,
I don't believe in upstaging, I just think of centers of energy sometimes.
And again, that thing of the complexity of an audience, audiences are very smart and we're visually very smart. And there is the capacity to see seven or 8 things at the same time and actually choose which bit to pull from at any given time.
Without that it doesn't really play at all.
It's more just that thing, it's a compliment to an audience I think in saying,
Mikey: and that's why we are so I'm very conscious of if the character is looking this way and they're talking that way,
I want to look that way. And if they're looking out that way, I want it because of the whole and then the moment, because when it's synchronized, it looks synchronized as opposed to. Oh well, these people, I don't want it to be jarring to anybody in the audience really because I know people are watching,
Lee: it is a kind of amazing thing.
How about Shakespeare?
Mikey: Shakespeare, Shakespeare is fun, Shakespeare is fun.
Um it's but it's thinking about that actually because in Hamilton, there's a Shakespeare quote, he quotes Macbeth and then we just started talking about it.
There are older signs that are used languages language evolves so there are newer signs and it sort of has morphed from the community.
So when we do Shakespeare we actually try to pare it back and go back to using some of the older signs that the older generation would have used
Lee: it's classic signs, is it?
Mikey: Yeah, sort of that classical stuff.
Yeah and it's it's all that kind of nuance to take into account and you try to do and sort of fit it all together.
Lee: So is there, in a scheme of the dictionary. I, like, is the date, are signs dated, like, do you know what I mean?
Like like you know when you're looking back into old English and that sort of stuff and there's like origins in medieval and that sort of stuff.
Lee: Is that sort of thing starting to emerge to
Mikey: No, I don't think, well maybe the academics and stuff do that
Mikey: They throw out all these academic terms, and we're like what does that mean?
And then they, you know, the old language they use, like, I don't know what that is, but it's all too heavy for me it's not my thing [laughter]
Mikey: There are a lot of smarter people out there analyzing the language but I'm sure they would have sort of stuff around
Lee: It makes sense to me.
Lee: Oh no sorry. I was one of those academic-y people at a certain point.
Mikey: Oh you were
Lee: No no no I did linguistics at uni.
So I'm really interested in that question of the evolution of language and how it happens and morphs in people across time and what's actually happening.
I love the aliveness of it and I love the loving memory that's not necessarily. The density with which we store language and where you can pull it from.
It is extraordinary.
Lee: We know nothing about our brains really
Mikey: Yeah, it's fascinating, especially when analyzing language because these guys will come out and they will be like where what... huh? I just do. And they're like, and they label stuff and I'm just like that's got names?
But again, like if you've got that mindset,
Mikey: it is fascinating listening to the linguists talk about a language that I've just used and always just used and just go oh ok.
Lee: Have you used it all your life?
Mikey: My parents are deaf and they're a very big deaf family.
So I just grew up doing it and my father is a great storyteller and he's very engaging and stuff.
So I think that's what I've sort of learned from that and my mom's family were always together and telling stories and I think just our, our families were always involved in stuff.
So there was, there was always stories and all that kind of stuff.
So I've just grown up watching that.
So I was very,
Mikey: very lucky to have such a rich English language as well as a sign language and to absorb together.
Lee: a big language household
Mikey: It was, it was language. And it was always happening just always there.
I'm actually jealous [laughter] like that bilingual space, you know, I can, I can read really badly in French,
Lee: but that's about it and I can't speak it
Mikey: I tried to learn German, I could not do it, they're going "but you're bilingual"
Mikey: I'm like but I'm not taught to be bilingual. I just am
Lee: You just are
Mikey: So to learn another language is actually quite hard for me. It should be easy,
but I'm like, no,
Lee: no, you just have always, you're actually bilingual.
Lee: You didn't you learned them both as first languages.
Mikey: Exactly, And my signing, the more, my signing developed the more my English developed because I could map that into this thing that I knew how to do and knew how to communicate and was like, oh that's the English- -Cool.
Mikey: I map it the other way which people find interesting
Lee: Just because there'll be, someone will have a question about this.
How does what about a little bit of Hamilton too-
But how does the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare?..
Mikey: It doesn't,
Lee: it doesn't?
Mikey: it doesn't that kind of rhythm doesn't, there is a way to sort of do the rhythm and it's more I actually use my body if that makes sense when that rhythm comes through and the sort of the lilt and that kind of stuff you've really got to nail and make polished, but you can't do it for everything because sometimes it's just the languages don't fit because they are so different.
Lee: Is that what you're working on in Hamilton because the rhythm in that-
Mikey: the rhythm-
Lee: -and the language
Mikey: -and the language and stuff and that's why you sort of look at it and you go right, if I change it to this sign as opposed to using this particular sign?
It actually fits better, the rhythm goes better and it's sort of because it's up here and it's down here and it's out here, if you're doing a sign that's here and trying to morph it into something that goes up there, it's not going to work.
So you sort of switch it and you find a sign that sort of goes out here more so that you can morph it to whatever is coming next if that makes sense.
Lee: Yeah right. .It sort of does. But it makes sense to me as a director not as a speaker of the language do you know what I mean? in the performance of something.
Lee: It's like the performance of anything really
Mikey: You've got to make it fit somehow
Lee: Make it fit and also craft it-
Mikey: and because we are doing the two different languages
Lee: and also crafting it into making it something that's attractive too. You're selling something- an idea.
Mikey: that's exactly what it is. It's got to be, we have to be engaging.
Mikey: And the way I always look at is that these people have paid a lot of money to come access a show and if I'm done Dogshit, they're just going to be like how about this play?
That's a conduit, I know what lack of a better word is, but it's my responsibility to make sure that they get the access that everyone else gets.
And so I have to represent them the way that they are representing themselves if that makes sense?
Lee: It's interesting.
Lee: You know that question about how sit is this play or how good is this play?
Is it easier to sign a play you like?
Mikey: Oh, definitely, definitely.
Mikey: Yeah yeah.
So, I mean, yeah,
Lee: like actors like, you know, sometimes they take the job when they don't really love the play, but you've got to pay the rent, you know,
Mikey: pretty much it.
Lee: And there's always that question for me as a director, I'm always looking at, do you really love it?
Or you're just saying you love it, You know,
Mikey: there's definitely, like I said I'm musical, Give me a musical and I'm there,
Lee: Good to know
Mikey: Definitely give me a musical, but again, you're right. There are some I work with some people and they go oh such a depressing play, but I'm like, but it's not depressing.
Mikey: I think it was City of Gold,
Lee: Oh City of Gold, yeah that monologue
Mikey: the monologue, again, just loved that monologue. It's in Sydney, and I'm like, can I go down and do it in Sydney?
Lee: Oh, yeah,
Mikey: because I know they just moved down there
Lee: have they have they got back to you?
Mikey: Not yet.
Lee: Because, you should
Mikey: I'm still I'm still waiting. Yeah, like I did it up here, but my colleague was like,
It's too, I think maybe too confronting and so they were very no, but it's beautiful.
Like, there's so much deeper meaning here that they just weren't picking up on, and I'm like that, and they're like, oh, oh ,oh, oh it's a beautiful play.
Lee: Yeah, right.
Lee: a beautiful play and that and that monologue in the scheme of the country? It's one of the great pieces of writing,
Mikey: it's brilliant It's just brilliant and that was something I worked on quite a lot because I mean that is, it's so emotional and it's so rapid-fire too because the signing isn't just word for word, it's it's the concept, it's the language and then the art of it.
So I worked a lot on that because I wanted everybody to go. This guy is bloody amazing.
Lee: Yeah, and look, It was funny working when Maine was developing the play, Uh, he had written it for himself to speak, but it's pages and pages long.
It's like 20 years,
Mikey: Oh yeah [laughs]
Lee: right? So that's like 30 pages of text raises one monologue, right? And when we get to that point in the development and whichever actor was doing it, they just would start and you just see Maine go [gasp], because it was like,
Lee: no one speaks as fast as Maine.
Mike: No [laugh]
Lee: And he was like, you know,
Mikey: You give it a fair [inaudible] I got to say
Mikey: when you [inaudible] slow down,
Lee: Oh, sorry.
Mikey: Anyway, Maine is yeah it was so good.
Lee: Yeah, he's amazing. And that funny thing, I do seriously think it's one of the best piece of writing in the 21st century, that piece of monologue,
Lee: I think that we should put in a time capsule and just kind of,
Mikey: Oh definitely, definitely
Lee: but now I kind of go,
Lee: we've got to put you in the capsule as well.
Mikey: No, no, no, no, no don't do that. I actually... when he did that piece on with The Project was it?
Lee: No it was a Q and A.
Mikey: Q and A! When he did that, I actually contacted a few of the deaf schools that I knew and I said I've got this, bit I've interpreted the Q and A, the Q and A one and I said you need these kids to watch this because it is so real.
And so this is what these people are facing, this is what this whole cohort of our community face on a daily basis, and they just went on and I'm like, no, no, no, you need to be telling these kids this because they don't get it anywhere if they don't, it's not interpreted for them, they don't get it.
So they missed out on so much.
Lee: Yeah, right, of course, sorry, the conversation, I'm going, 'oh yeah, right, so, you know,' it's it's that interesting question of like of I know how important some of these pieces, especially in the new writing space are. In what they're trying to say to the country and it's just that thing of making sure it gets further and further.
I'm kind of going, you know, I've got to like start filming you more.
Mikey: No, no, no don't do that
Lee: Well, we've already got the cameras on the shows, do you know what i mean?
The reason I think it's so important as well that we start really highlighting what it is, because you and I can just in passing have heard someone say, 'oh Maine on Q and A last night, how mind-blowing was his speech?'
And we walk away and going, we will google it while a lot of the deaf community, they don't get that, they don't get it.
So that's why for me, it's really important that when we get bits like this, we really have to really highlight what is going on here,
Lee: I will think about that,
Mikey: that's just my random mad ramblings for the day,
no, this is good,
this is good. You see this is secretly why I do these things, you know, it's again that thing of I'm just trying to open up the conversation about theatre and what we're doing because it's it's a really old thing that we do, it's ancient and we've got a lot of conventional ways of doing things, but in a in an increasingly unconventional world, how can we crack it open?
What are new ideas, what are things that I haven't thought about? And you know, I just kind of go, yeah, right, more to think about, this is good, and part of doing this is actually just going, the conversation about theatre is, has got really soft edges,
Do you know what I mean?
Like there are is room for a whole lot of other thoughts can come into the space.
Um and that's partly why we're doing these podcasts because I kind of feel like I need to be having a conversation, not just in little rooms secretly,
Lee: it is an evolution of
Mikey: Even when I first got in my first backstage thing of Grease, I was like, what is this? It's a whole different world [inaudible] and costume designers and set changes and all this kind of stuff.
Lee: dressers, how amazing,
Lee: is a dresser,
Mikey: I know
Lee: you're standing,
Lee: you're standing backstage waiting for someone to come off and you've planned how you're going to rip the clothes off them and put new ones on them and get them back on stage in 30 seconds.
Mikey: It's incredible
Lee: That's your job,
Mikey: so talented
Lee: and you've got it, you've figured out this little dance, and I always think, oh, it'd be great to put a camera on it. But then I also go,
Lee: there is really important that those are kind of protected spaces,
Mikey: That safe space
Lee: That safe space, you can't put a camera on everything, but you just want to see how amazing these people are,
Mikey: They are they're brilliant and you're doing this podcast, that makes me think of those sorts of people, but we just just don't, you know, we don't see them because they're behind the curtain.
But wow, I remember just going, this is mind-blowing and then talking to some of the actors, they're like, yeah, we're gonna run here and they're going to hook it around over there and then we're hooking it, they're putting this on and we'll stop it.
Lee: Well, it's also so funny because having you in the Bill Brown Theatre - right, um it's generally one side or the other where we kind of go, that'll be okay.
But then it's always this moment, I'll be sitting there watching, and we'll be like, and you'll be like, is there anything I’ll need to learn?
And it'll be fine, it'll be fine.
And then I go, oh God, there's that running entrance and sometimes people just fanging past you and I just hope that you don't get flattened as someone comes in.
Mikey: And it's funny because that's what we do, especially when you're watching a show and I'm doing like the archival and I'm like, where's the best place to stand here?
Where I'm not going to get nailed? Like it's like, you can stand there, there's not too much action over there.
Maybe do that side, but you do think about all those sorts of things. Lee: Yeah, yeah and that thing of like, oh, that's not going to work.
Oh, I forgot to think about that moment.
Mikey: I did cats years ago when Delta was on it and we were up on stage with them, which was just phenomenal and the deafs loved it and I'm just doing my thing and the next minute this cat starts rubbing itself against me, And I’m like what is going on?
I'm just like,…
Yeah… allright? And then at halftime, I was like, What the???? (to the cat)
She was just like “I was in the mood for it”… and I went… sure??? It was just like, I was doing a song and just this thing started rubbing up against me leg.
Lee: Like you're in the show
Mikey: (emphasising) in the show! that's pretty much what they said. “We're not breaking the third wall”.
Lee: Well that's a surprise. Do things ever go wrong when you're on stage?
Mikey: not too many times. I once had my poor co-interpreter had a coughing fit. So she just basically went in the wings and I went, (signs) “I've got you” and it's funny even last night with what's… what's… what's the name? Virginia Woolf! Four main characters, Two boys, two girls, we thought, yeah, I'll do the boys you do all the girls and there's a thing, it's called blending.
So rather than, because when you're doing a role shift, you sort of physically move and stuff, it'll be, Um… so when George was talking last night and Nick was responding, rather than respond as Nick, I'm responding as George and sort of answering the question he's asked.
I don't know if that if that makes any sense to you whatsoever,
Lee: it sort of does, but I'm deeply intrigued by it –
Mikey: so instead of going, “how are you today?”
And then it sorta goes “how are you and then it goes, (rolling it all together) “yeah I’m good” yeah, I'm good. It's like how cool like it's, but you're giving the answer that's come through, that's taken a lot to sort of finesse if that makes sense.
So when this happened, when she hopped off, I was like, you know, I got you, I got you.
So when they're, they're talking, I'm just, I'm responding to their conversation, even though that particular person wasn't talking,
Lee: yeah right! So you're writing as you go along in a funny way. In a capturing the sense of, of the moment and letting one character be the like the dominant character, Yeah, okay
Mikey: and that and it's, I remember at the start, like a lot of deaf audiences, we're going, but they're not talking, it was jarring for them and so they sort of got used to coming to the theatre. Because these people have never really gone to the theatre before, so they didn't understand how it worked.
And so we were like, No no no, you're still getting the same information, just don't necessarily look at whose mouth its coming from.
And I think now the more, the more understanding, more sophistication that deaf members have got, the more that they go “this makes perfect sense”.
Lee: they got used to you, Mikey: I dare say -
Lee: do you like have fans?
Mikey: When I do a show and Michelle and I do a show together, it is… we will notice a bigger audience because I think – Lee: well it’s a trust relationship
Mikey: Yeah it is and they trust us and they know that we will give them what they need if that makes sense.
Lee: Yeah, well, it's that thing, isn't it? Like that whenever people are coming to the theatre for the first time, I'm really conscious of the importance of them actually having a good night in the theatre because otherwise, they’re not going to come back, why would they do that – Mikey: exactly why would they???, you know,
Lee: (pretending to be an audience member) “Ohh, I didn't have a good night or a good time, Why would I go again?”
You know, ah… so it's… and that's whoever is coming to the theatre. So it's the same thing, you kind of go unless you're gonna have a good night in the theatre and that really depends… but if you give them a good night, In the theatre. They’ll be like he's (Mikey’s) doing it, I'm going to go because I enjoyed his performance,
Mikey: that's what it is, and you've got to have interpreters that mesh if that makes sense. You have the same language style and that's really important.
Lee: How long have you and Michelle been? -
Mikey: So we first did Grease together.
So it was sort of our big break out sort of thing.
And that was back in 2014.
Mikey: so yeah, I just tart myself around and do all sorts of stuff, but she's very particular in what she does,
Mikey: but when we do get together, so we did Aladdin together with Greece and then we did Hamilton and I begged her for that, she was like, “no, I can't do it.”
And I begged her and I was like, “no, we're doing this.”
And she was very reluctant.
And initially we thought we were gonna go with three interpreters because it was so dense because it was so layered and we thought we'll get Susan who I did last night with Virginia Woolf.
Susan did it and then we went, Michelle and I sort of read it and the more familiar, we became with it went, no, no, we got this like it's it's good, we that level of trust and that level of understanding and knowing our strengths and weaknesses because we do work so well together.
It was phenomenal.
Lee: It's interesting though because it's interesting that you started with the three and then there's something so much about the duel, that's so that it's one, it's two people facing off in the idea of the story comes down to a two, rather than a… yeah -
Mikey: It was a two, but initially we were going…, so Michelle was Bur and I was Hamilton and then obviously with Lafayette and Charles lee-
Lee: that you would need a third-
Mikey: Susan was gonna be like the moderator, so she would be like “number one, you guys gotta go do this…” and then we would sort of talk and then come back and she's going “Number two…” and then it was just like, no, no, no, we got this and then I ended up, that blending thing of, just, just, the characterization and just the morphing.
It was just, I don't know how we did it, but we did!
Lee: well once you've climbed the Hamilton mountain, you kind of go pretty much,
Mikey: I said, I was done. I was like, “I'm done”, “I'm retired” and I'm like, oh well, And Michelle said “let’s do Fame”, that’s her muse
Mikey: and I went well ok look, I can’t hate her for it
Lee: No, you can't Fame just, you know,
Mikey: (jokingly) I don't get a choice I’m afraid
Lee: So how was, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? last night?
Mikey: It was fantastic, Um… long,
Lee: Yeah sure, long, three hours- That's a long,
Mikey: (agreeing) it's a long performance. It was good. And just, and that's the other thing. I was just thinking like, With all these questions I’ve got to ask beforehand, because you need to know what the play is.
You need to know how it ends, what it's morphing, what the purpose is… the intent because that actually affects the sign choice that we’ll use and foreshadowing and all those sorts of things that are in the theatre, but I'm sure you would know-
Mikey: we need to sort of need to know that as well, because then we make sure that we can sort of put that in there.
So, yes, So… we knowing what it was, it was just about, that, that, that, psychological stuff of of just that one up, they switched the last the last part, that one-upmanship that they just keep throwing.
It's like, how are we going to make sure that THEY understand that this is about that balance of power and stuff and yeah, and just making sure that we did that-
Lee: look it's a… I go and see that play and it's such an extraordinary piece of writing, sometimes plays… the genius of it is in the performance, not in the script. Not the words on the page, but that play (Virginia Woolf) it’s both.
You've got to have those words are so specific and like you said, all of the techniques he has in his writing that's set up for something way later-
Mikey: way later
Lee: like the complexity of what you would have to be writing-
Mikey: and that’s what it is!-
Lee: and the performance.
Mikey: And like I said that the sign choice makes such a difference as well, because if you use the wrong sign, it's sort of contextually can skew it the way that the author wasn't… or the writer isn't meant to be considering that way.
So there is a lot of nuance and stuff that we do take into account.
Lee: oh yeah, look long night though.
Mikey: Hahahah yeah look, I was dead on me feet!
Lee: Well, at least with that particular one, all four actors were as exhausted as you-
Mikey: Well yeah hey, that does make me feel better.
They would have been too, because there's not much of a break for any of them on there and- Lee: it's a big, It’s a big, big play.
Mikey: and it's so wordy, there’s no action or anything. It's just them being in that moment.
Lee: yeah. Well look, it's just that thing… I kind of I think about Albee’s work kind of like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. They're like going to the Olympics. You've just got to be the best at what you've got-
Mikey: you do And it's funny because when we're sort of talking to new interpreters, That want to do theatre and stuff, we bang on about endurance because you can't fade. Like you've got to be your on your feet for 2.5 to 3 hours-
Lee: and the crescendo is late!
Mikey: So if you're fading then you've missed the big bit of the end yeah, we do talk about just stamina and just staying power and being able to hold the moment-
Lee: and where you start as opposed to knowing where you're going. You know where you finish. Yeah. Right.
Mikey: And it's hard as well because we are ALL characters.
So it's it's riding the emotion of one character and then having to switch over to the emotion of another character. It can be quite tumultuous, like, you've really got it, you've got to hold it.
Lee: okay, apart from Hamilton. Favorite play?
Mikey: Oh, But it's Hamilton's hands down-
Lee: Oookay sure
Mikey: as soon as it came to Sydney, I just rang Susan and I went, I will break people's fingers. If it's not me, I will physically hurt people. Like it's my thing, it's like, no, this is mine.
And she's like,
“well… there's no one else that could do it.”
And I went-
Lee: “(Laughing) that's not what I was saying”,
“(pretend rough voice as Mikey) I would take them down!”
Mikey: So yeah, Hamilton hands down. It had everything, it's got everything. And I love I love a good musical. So-
Lee: but it's also that thing, isn't it, of going… It IS one of the great pieces of writing on the planet.
Mikey: (in awe) It's just brilliant. And then the more… because we had to really know it… the more you do the research and you do this, the more you unpack it, and you just go wow, It’s just so dense,
Lee: just so smart, Lin Manuel Miranda-
Mikey: You know the 10 people you have dinner? he's my number one. Cause I just want to go How?! How did you get all this… into this… to make it that… it's just… and the choreographer! I want to meet the choreographer,
Lee: Because it's a beautiful yeah…
Mikey: just some of the dancers as well, it's… Michelle and I actually… a lot of deaf people… we love the fact that when we paused to refer to the stage is when the dancers were doing their thing, because they're telling the story, it's just and that's the balance.
Lee: We don't need you at that point- Mikey: they don't need us. That's right. And I've always said, like, especially with the musicals, if it's repetitive and you've got an amazing bit of choreography, I'm not going to sign anything.
You're not here to see me, You’re here to see them just trust in me that what they're saying isn't new for you, if that makes sense and enjoy it. But with Hamilton it’s just the just Lee: beautiful choreography, beautiful suspension moments.
Mikey: How do they do it?!? Lee: I know Right? How strong are they. Mikey: how that one girl puts her leg up.. And I'm just like, how are you doing that? Yeah,
Lee: yeah. No, look, it's it is amazing work. I feel kind of theatrically jealous when I look at it, like about how good he is and how well it's made.
And I don't, not, not like not envy. It's not the right word.
Mikey: It's just admiration.
Lee: Yeah or how it's that funny thing where a creator really raises the bar, and you go right, okay.
Mikey: And that is… nothing could compete. Like, you can't, how?, just Yeah. Yeah.
Lee: (Agreeing) No, no, no, no. It's cool.
(changing topic with more serious tone) What can we do better?
Mikey: honestly, what you're doing now is pretty bloody good.
Lee: Yeah, but we can build on it. Do you know what I mean?
Mikey: You can always build on everything.
Lee: I mean, what's important to me in one of the reasons the Bill Brown Space was built, I think was so that it was better fit to new Australian work.
Um because sometimes we're not necessarily writing a Hamilton. A Hamilton needs a Playhouse, right?
It needs scale, that's telling the story at that scale and musicals are built for that scale. We have amazing storytellers in Australia that are sometimes telling quite small works that don’t necessarily… and because we've got a lot of smaller theatres, we not necessarily telling the big proclamation kind of thought… the intimacy of some of the Australian writing-
Mikey: Prima Facie was that yeah, I actually said I don't want to do that. I want to come and watch it because I went, that was and it was just, that was brilliant.
I loved it. She was just up there by herself.
Lee: Yeah, look at that one. I think it's… It’s opening on the West End-
Mikey: Is it!?!
Lee: So… yeah, it's going to London. Fantastic Jodie Coma is in it from, she was in Killing Eve? Mikey: Oh really?!
Lee: Yeah. And she was in, oh, what's the movie? free?... Free Guy? Mikey: Oh now, I dunno that one…
Lee: Disney? Disney one. Quite funny. Ryan Reynolds-
Mikey: Oh really?! Ryan Reynolds, that’s when I tuned out.
Lee: oh come on, he's kind of cute-
Mikey: Nah not for me, (laughing) yeah…
Lee: but she's a really beautiful actor. But yes,
Susie's having her West End-
Mikey: That’s fantastic!-
Lee: opening in April. So yeah,
Mikey: (whispering) was that here first?
Lee: Oh yeah yeah, well, no, not not in Queensland, it was down in Sydney,
Mikey: (confirming) Sydney first… but still!
Lee: but that one can actually stand up on a big stage, but it's just, it's actually harder to watch. We did it at Canberra theatre at the playhouse there and she was just so little,
Mikey: - it would have been too big!
Lee: No, no, it was good. It was actually scarier in a funny way.-
Mikey: Oh really?
Lee: Cause she was so small. Those back walls with the big words on it.
They were hanging in the air. So it was like this huge institution over her.-
Mikey: Oh ok, I would have thought it would have been more disconnected
Lee: No not disconnected. because you leaned into her, you wanted to protect her more in a funny way.
Mikey: There you go!
Lee: Somethings can't… sometimes things can go on the big stage that seems small but that space of new Australian plays and people having access to those stories because what the writers are saying to us is so important and and so important in the now of performance as well rather than I can read it 20 years from now.
Mikey: yeah that right, yeeeah
Lee: Just that thing that there's stuff that writers are writing for us to hear emotionally right now.
Mikey: It’s pertinent, it’s the now. It’s the landscape.
Lee: yeah you know, it's been interesting with Covid that question of filming works capturing them so that so that they can go further than Brisbane.
Mikey: Yeah. Is it the same though?
Lee: No, it's not the same. But I grew up in the country and I used to read about things and I never got to see them.
And so just even being like, you know, it's not that you know my parents weren’t going to move to the city so I just wanted to be able to see if I'd been able to watch videos or even archivals or anything.
I just would have watched them, you know, just to see.
Um and so that that question of what like feeling shut out of something I think happens in the regions a lot. You know, you just read about stuff in the newspaper and you go, oh, I can't, I can't afford it, I can't get there,
I can't drive a car, mum and dad can't take me all of that sort of stuff and that's from the young place, but then you go five hours a long way to drive for a play.
Mikey: well yeah it is. Particularly if people around, you don't value.
Mikey: the play as well.
Lee: So the filming was a chance… like if we can film it Well… it's not a replacement, but it's another way into something. And you kind of go that’s something. So, you know, just that and that really highlighted it for me, where people, there were people in Brisbane saying, look, you know, some of our older theatre lovers who can't come to the theatre anymore, they're physically just not up to it and I kind of go, they've spent their lives going to the theatre, you know, every month and then at a certain point you can't get up and down stairs, all of that sort of stuff and it just gets too hard.
Or you don't have support to get here. And you kind of go, well, somehow we've got to get the theatre to you.
And I kind of feel that's that's the time that we're in is trying to figure out, maybe that's what the time the Covid time has given us is a chance to reflect on it again-
Mikey: I couldn’t agree more-
Lee: it's sort of made us really stop and assess how we do things and go, We've always done it this way. And then when we're told, we can't, it's amazing how quickly we can adapt it so we can,
Lee: yeah, these other things. And so I'm really in the mode of like, how do we make it better, what can we do?
And I can't do everything. But there are things that I can do. And I'm like,
I'm interested in that thing of like what you're talking about, that, that piece of Mayne’s writing and going there are important bits of writing and maybe it's not going to be everything.
But I like to think that the Australian plays will sometimes punch through the entertainment part of the job into changing the country-
Mikey: Yes, and it's, there just more people need to actually take note of that.
Lee: yeah, yeah alright. So I'm going to plant that seed.
You don't have to answer me right now, but you can come back to me with how do we make it?
Mikey: Sure, (Laughing) I don't have the answer for that.
I'm just a do-er.
Lee: What about you?
Like, you know, encouraging other people to take, you know, to get into what you do.
Mikey: Um, it's, I, we try, we do try and it's funny because it seems to be me a lot and when Covid hit, it was a nice sort of break and I thought, oh, can I get back into this?
But then I missed it. I was like, you know, in the first place. I went, hey, you know, this, THIS (theatre) is good.
Um just before Covid hit, I cancelled 16 trips for the month of April. I was literally traveling around doing Download Festival,
I was doing Billy Elliot. I was doing, I don't know what it was, but so for the month of April it was just hectic. And then it all just shut down overnight and I still have having conversations with people like yourself and and these peers going, our income is gone, it's just whatever.
And then I thought maybe it's time for me to sort of take a step back and not do so much. But then it's like, I miss it. Actually, I do miss that. I miss giving people that access and giving them and seeing them go, yes, this is amazing.
But then trying to get other people in and they just, they don't want to do it. I don't know,
Lee: Well it is that mysterious place of performance as well-
Mikey: Performance slash interpretation!-
Lee: Not everybody wants interpretation-
Mikey: slash everyone's looking at me-
Lee: again that thing of your writing, you're acting-
Mikey: You’re making it sound very complicated, but you're right.
Lee: It is. And there are a lot of like, you know, there is a lot of work. There are a lot of people who love theater who never want to stand on a stage. In fact, that's, most people and performers are quite unusual.
It's that funny thing that you stand… like… um, you know that thing when someone explained it to me when I moved to New York.
They were like, if someone looks at you for over three seconds, your body knows.
Mikey: Does it?
Lee: well, yeah, think about it. How long does it take?
Someone looking at you in a public space before you kind of feel something in-
Mikey: oh I am just oblivious to it all.
Lee: my God dude, you would be dead living in New York. (Both laughing) Just a survival instinct thing that says something's wrong.
We do pick it up because it's so, it's that funny thing, the sensible thing for you to, you know, your body to do when it's under threat and all of those eyes on it is to run.
But something in performers, they don't run, they actually kind of walk towards that kind of gaze and it's not, it's not usual insofar as percentage of people, but we've always had them, we've always had storytellers, people who are willing to stand out in front of other people and tell the story.
So, you know, you're just looking at a very specific set of people when, when it's your skills.
Mikey: And unfortunately there's not enough of us.
Lee: (Agreeing) Not enough.
Mikey: which is sad, but, but hey,
Mikey: I'm sure the deaf-ies are sick of looking at me.
Lee: I'm sure they would have written to me if they were, and we haven't had any letters-
Mikey: Oh yeah they haven’t complained yet…
Lee: we haven't had any letters saying, could you, could you get another guy-
Mikey: Get someone else to do it.
Lee: No, look, it's, but it is that interesting thing of like people actually realizing that there is a, it's a whole profession and you will work a lot.
Mikey: It is funny and it's just one thing from another, like it's just that constant, always what's next? I've got literally a High School Musical, which is High School Musical this Saturday.
So yeah, it was Hamilton, Hamilton, Hamilton crammed Virginia Woolf and then right that one's gone now, it's High School Musical, cram, cram, cram, High School Musical. Um, and then next month it's Midnight Oil in Melbourne.
So it's going to be cram, cram, cram, cram, Midnight Oil and then whatever happens next, it's just that constant. And I think during Covid it was like, oh yeah, this is nice, but oh no, what about just, what else is there to miss it?
Lee: There's a richness isn't there?
When you're engaging with the thoughts that are inside all of these works?
Mikey: It is, It is, and I do, I love it, I love just getting in there and just going, what does this mean?
Lee: and it is that thing, I think you've got to embody those ideas, those emotions, which means you've got to actually take them inside you and then and translate, Interpret-
Mikey: and make it look-
Lee: which means you have to deeply understand.
And when you, when you get into that, then it is back to things were back to back with Lin Manuel Miranda you start to appreciate the genius inside of work.
Mikey – that’s exactly what it is. Just amazing. Yeah, I'm very, very lucky that and I it's because… I stem it all back to the fact that I had such a good linguistic growing up with english and sign language where I can get these ideas and these these these deep meanings and be able to use my hands to get that message across with this rich language that I've got if that makes sense.
Lee: Yeah, it does, it makes absolute sense. I'm just trying to think of, you know, of the work that you can actually just be in the show of.
Mikey: (very quickly) No,
Mikey: NO don't terrify me.
Mikey: absolutely terrify me!
no. (Lee Laughs) I'm happy standing on the side. I'm happy watching them enjoy what they want to do. And that's the great thing about interpreter theater and that kind of stuff is that these people now can bring their neighbors, their family and share that experience with them and then go home and talk about that particular experience IN that moment rather than you know, watching the tv or and not… just… that's what, that's what gets me going.
That's what makes me really want to do a good job for them so that they can then go home and and just be an equal and not be left out of conversations. Deaf or hearing just about that moment.
Lee: that makes sense. Oh, isn’t that interesting.
Mikey: I'm not doing it. I'm standing in the wings just giving them the information. That's all I'm doing.
Lee: (Laughing) That's funny.
There's a there's a photographer I work with who I've always said it would be great to actually have you on stage in the show because you know with live projection of the photographs that he's taking and he's like,
“I'm not getting on stage” and I was like “But you’re onstage anyway, you're on stage anyway.”
And he was like,
I'm not performing.” because he doesn't think of himself as performing.
He's interpreting what he's seeing and he was like,
“I'm not on stage”, I'm like, dude, you're physically on the stage. And he's like,
“no, I'm not on stage”. It's a funny delineation.
Mikey: It is and I’m the same. Ahh, I… just thought of it being my, MY message or my bit, terrifies me, no no no no no I will take yours and give this to you. And I know you have equal access, but it's not me. like it's just no. Yes,
Lee: it's interesting.
Now there's some beautiful writers who are Australian writers who are actually better translators than they are writers.
Lee: Well, because there is a… there is an adaptation, an interpretation layer in any translation,
Mikey: there is that's right-
Lee: and that's their beautiful balance and how far there are choices and in any choice, there is a meaning shift-
Mikey: and there's consequences-
Lee: yeah, and it's a fascinating thing in the translation world and I kinda go…
Mikey: that's where we're going and some people are actually just better at that than they are at original writing and that's that's fascinating to me, where I kind of go, your gift is to actually lift off out of another, another language, another culture into it is a strange alchemy-
Mikey: that’s why I kinda go you people can do
Lee: what you do, isn't it?
Mikey: Yeah, I guess so.
Yeah, I guess so. It's just, again, I think I'm just lucky because I had just, I had it all around me and just had the opportunity to take it all in. And it wasn't till you sort of start to assess why you do what you do and you actually sort of do unpack it a bit more and go, oh, this isn't just that, it's, there's a whole lot of work that sort of goes on behind it.
I think it's more, the more I've done, the more I've matured, if that makes sense and really got down to the nitty gritty.
Lee: okay, so we've got, we've got your greatest hit being HAMILTON, so where do you go from here goals?
Mikey: (Stuttering in stress) I'm never been one of, Those you know “what are you doing in five years?”. I'm like, nah, each day as it comes.
Lee: So just more great art to engage with.
Mikey: just, yeah, just for me, it's always about the audience, like I want, I want them… because they're always so shut out and like, especially with the music stuff, a lot of people go “Deaf people? They can't hear music”, but it's not about the music, it's about the performance.
Like, you know, if you think of the great artists like pink and stuff, what happens on stage is phenomenal and it's a beat. It's the experience of being with people and being in that moment. That's what, that's what I want to sort of really-
Lee: be in a moment.
Mikey: I want them to have that moment like everyone else gets that where traditionally they've been shut out from that moment because people just go why why would we do that?
Lee: Because other people decide that-
Mikey: (Agreeing) other people decide. That's why, that's why really take great pleasure, enjoying what I do because I'm going, “it's finally there for them”.
Whether they come and take it or not, that's their choice.
But they have now got a choice to go and do it.
Lee: Yeah a way into Peter Garrett, to being with everybody else. In Peter Garrett's force.
Mikey: Exactly, Yes. And and Midnight Oil because there's so much meaning behind their songs.
Lee: Well they're part of our heritage and they that's right and and a lot of deaf people don't get that, they don't understand, they just go, oh yeah but they don't understand the richness of what some of these songs mean. And just the part of our culture and our heritage which is Australia. I want them to have that-
Lee: yeah, and it's that thing, is that you've got to be in the room where it happens,
Mikey: Yeah, that it! Gota be in the room where it happens! (both laughing)
Lee: Maybe that's a good spot to end. Like here's… here's to being letting people be in the room where it happened,
Mikey: where it happened. Love it that’s brilliant.
Lee: Yeah, that's a good ending. Thank you everyone for being with us in the room where the conversation happened.
Mikey: There we go.
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