Actor Elizabeth Morris’s latest role is in Jean Giraudoux’s satirical play The Madwoman of Chaillot at the Stratford Festival. Like any performer, she works hard to captivate audiences through strong acting and stage presence. Her work is expressed primarily, however, in American Sign Language (ASL).
Morris’s substantial resume of theatre and film production credits includes a wide range of ASL storytelling, visual work, miming and stand-up comedy: “Sometimes I have ASL interpreters on hand to voiceover for me, for hearing members to hear, but my body language and facial expressions are very clear and big, so non-signers can pick up some of my signs,” she says.
Morris also works as an ASL coach, an accessibility consultant, and an inclusive designer for theatres and films. She is a member of ACTRA and CAEA union. She decided to attend OCAD U’s Inclusive Design program to research ways to make live theatres more accessible and inclusive for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and for their families.
“I believe that if you want a change to happen, you have to be the person to change it,” says Morris of her research. In becoming an inclusive designer through the program, she hopes to reduce gaps in accessibility and forge new solutions specifically suited to theatre and film: “This research will always be evolving. I plan to open minds and help theatre companies be more willing to try new things.”
Through interviewing Deaf actors and directors as part of her investigative process, Morris discovered different perspectives on accessibility issues: “Each individual is different,” she says. “The research is not only biased based on my own experiences, it’s inclusive of Deaf and Hard of Hearing who may have different levels of hearing loss.” She says that the program also made her more aware of accessibility issues for the blind.
In film and theatre environments Morris works with ASL interpreters so that rehearsals and shows are accessible both to her and everyone else she’s collaborating with. Within the Inclusive Design program, OCAD U provided an ASL interpreters and a note taker for the same purpose, and much of the program is delivered through an online technology and learning system. Prior to attending OCAD U she completed her BA in Elementary Education and Educational Drama at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., which remains unique as the only liberal arts university for the Deaf in the world.
Find out more: www.Actor-ElizabethMorris.com