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April Reign Interviews 'Master of None' Deaf Actress Treshelle M. Edmond
April Reign Interviews 'Master of None' Deaf Actress Treshelle M. Edmond
Source: Silent Grapevine

Treshelle M. Edmond on Making History as a Deaf Performer on Broadway

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Source: Silent Grapevine

April Reign interviews two-time headlining Broadway star, Treshelle M. Edmond, about making history and making the Great White Way more inclusive.

“The challenge of life is to build a resume that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be, but it is a story about who you want to be.”

Oprah Winfrey said this about her own career, but it is very apparent that Treshelle M. Edmond is a student of his reigning highness of all media. A San Bernardino native, Edmond face might be familiar to those who subscribe to “Netflix and Chill,” as she was on Season Two, Episode Six of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. A talented actress who is an ASL performer and strongly believes in self-love, her bit about not getting enough attention from her significant other was a laugh-out-loud moment during the episode, and cemented her in our memory banks as a player to keep an eye on.

It’s not every day that you hear or see ASL actors performing major roles in front of audiences and on television screens. This is probably why Treshelle, a graduate of Cal State Northridge University with studies in Childhood & Adolescent Behavior, managed to plan an alternate route just in case, y’know? Thankfully, she didn’t have to build a resume and work a regular-schmegular-degular 9-to-5, as Treshelle M. Edmond starred on Broadway before her Master of None appearance as Martha Bessell in Spring Awakening.

Described as “a stand-out performer whose words seem to spill directly from the core of her body,” Treshelle’s gift has taken her around the globe and into households across America. The oldest of three children, this gorgeous phenom was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in both ears when she was only 18 months old. Fluent in ASL, Treshelle found her home on the stage as the acting bug hit her at an early age. She’s made appearances on House, M.D., GLEE and Late Night with Seth Meyers, showering audiences with her passion and natural ability with each performance. Treshelle is also making history. As the first and only deaf woman of color to headline a Broadway production twice, she has created rarefied air for herself as creative and a performer.

With all that in mind, there was only one person we thought qualified enough to speak with Ms. Edmond about her career and diversity on Broadway. April Reign took the reigns of the interview to speak with Treshelle M. Edmond about being the only black actress in a Broadway production, if the Great White Way has truly become inclusive of others and what advice she has to offer other millennials of color. After reading our exclusive chat, be sure to get your ticket to see Treshelle in Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God. —@KevitoClark Interview as told to @ReignofApril.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Source: Facebook

Okayplayer: You and I talked as you made history on Broadway in 2015 for Spring Awakenings as the only black actress in the production. What has transpired for you since then?

Treshelle M. Edmond: Since then, I have worked with Ms. Tonya Pinkins in a play called, What Came After, written by Christopher O. Pena. It was also made into a short film. I also worked with Ingrid Michaelson for her music video “Hell No”. Myself and a few others from the Spring Awakening cast did a music video and performed with Ingrid on The Today Show. Our wonderful Michael Arden directed the music video. I was in Master of None, Season Two-Episode Six: “I Love New York,” which is currently streaming on Netflix. And recently I came back from a mission in Trinidad with the Starkey Hearing Foundation giving back to our global community for those who need of hearing aids.

OKP: You are making a triumphant return to Broadway this spring in Children of a Lesser God. What attracted you to this role?

TME: It is such a blessing to be returning to Broadway this spring. I will be playing the role of Lydia. What attracted me to the role is how joyful and loving Lydia is and I guess she is a lot like me in the sense that I was strictly oral in my younger years. I didn’t learn American Sign Language until fourth grade. She is sort of a complex person that is “oral” from the institution which means she was taught to speak, and not to sign. She is everything that Mr. Leeds wants in Sarah.

OKP: It appears that you will be the only deaf performer in this small cast. How does that affect the rehearsal process?

TME: I am not the only deaf performer in this great cast of Children of a Lesser God. Lauren Ridloff (Sarah) and John McGinty (Orin) are, also deaf. We have expert interpreters that are experienced in theatre to work with all of us individually. They also help keep us connected to the director, Kenny Leon, and other cast that are hearing.

OKP: Does Broadway seem more or less inclusive of those from marginalized communities since you last performed two years ago, either with respect to actors and actresses or those behind the curtain?

TME: Broadway seems to be more aware now since Spring Awakening hit Broadway. However, I think in business it is still the same. Casting directors are still casting hearing people in deaf roles when there is deaf talent available. On the other hand, the fans and other actors/actresses have shown so much love and respect to us by learning to sign their names or finger spell to make sure we feel included. So that definitely touches my heart. It’s a start in getting things to change. Representation definitely matters and I try to show that.

OKP: Do you feel that you face additional challenges being Black and deaf that non-Black deaf people do not experience?

TME: To be very honest, I would be lying if I said no. This is one of those unspoken topics in the black deaf community. I do face additional challenges. There are certain situations where I have to not react. There are challenges like having to “sign black” versus signing “non-black” because there is a fine line in between knowing how to connect with the deaf/ hard of hearing audience and there’s the line of being black versus not being a person of color. There are also cultural and linguistic factors. People see me and see black, then they see a woman, and then they see deaf. This means I have to work three times as hard to get the same opportunities. I get it from all angles. Some people think I’m “not black enough”… whatever that means.

OKP: What improvements and opportunities have you seen for the deaf and hard of hearing community in the past 10 years?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Source: Treshelle M. Edmond

In the past 10 years, improvements and opportunities have occurred gradually. It has been a very slow process but I do see more inclusion. Although some opportunities may be there, they aren’t always given to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing. Some of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have decided to create their own news and entertainment to show the hearing world the many things that they can do. We are still struggling. Not a lot of businesses are aware of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits discrimination based on disability. Sarah from Glide ran a campaign to spread awareness for #WithCaptions to have closed captions included in videos. There was also the television show Switched at Birth that was based around a deaf character. We need more shows like this. They were awesome opportunities where we were able to show that deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear.

OKP: What can the hearing community do to stand in solidarity with the deaf community? How can we be better allies and accomplices?

TME: One thing hearing people can do is to learn a little bit of American Sign Language. Something as simple as knowing the alphabet in sign language is huge to the deaf community in showing your willingness to accept us and communicate in our language. Something that the industry can do is hire deaf /Hard of Hearing (HOH) actors for these roles. The character will be more relatable if the role can be portrayed authentically by a deaf/HOH actor. Representation really does matter. It is important to connect with audiences globally for the deaf/HOH communities and to have deaf people represented authentically on screen and on-stage. And even though some of these roles audition deaf actors, in the end they wind up casting a hearing person in those roles.

OKP: You have performed on TV, on Broadway, and at the Superbowl! What is left on your Bucket List?

TME: Being in a feature film is something I would love to do. When it’s all said and done, I would also like to continue to mentor and possibly be a Life Coach. Someday, I’d like to own my own catering business and keep trying to make a difference in the world in both the hearing and deaf communities.

OKP: Your schedule is jam-packed. How do you practice self-care to ensure that you don't become exhausted?

TME: I try to get five to eight hours of sleep plus 15-minute power naps in between shows. I am finally doing yoga and that helps a lot. I pray and meditate to maintain my spirituality. It’s impossible to not become exhausted with a Broadway schedule. I will never tire of doing what I love. It makes me happy knowing that I give it everything I’ve got.

OKP: What word of advice would you give to millennials of color who are interested in a theater career?

TME: I would ask them this: Are you doing what you love? If the answer is yes, stick with it through the storm. And bring an umbrella!


Catch Treshelle M. Edmond in the hotly anticipated Broadway production of Children of a Lesser God at Broadway's Studio 54 (254 W. 54th Street) beginning March 22, 2018 with an opening night set for Wednesday, April 11, 2018.

April Reign is a universally respected diversity and inclusion consultant, and #OscarsSoWhite creator.