On Wednesday, April 24th, Mark Medoff died. In 1979, he wrote “Children of a Lesser God,” the seminal play that features a strong deaf female lead character, Sarah, who he insisted be played by a deaf actress. The play went to Broadway and won a slew of awards including a Tony Award for Best Play, as well as a Tony for Best Actress for Phyllis Frelich, who played Sarah. Mark went on to write four more stage plays specifically with Frelich in mind throughout his career.
Medoff’s dogged insistence on casting deaf talent first manifested itself when he wrote a note in the play, an inclusion rider of sorts. We posted a photo of these instructions on Twitter.
"Children of a Lesser God" came about when deaf actress Phyllis Frelich told Mark Medoff that there were no substantive roles for deaf actresses, and he vowed to write one. Later, @MarleeMatlin said, he “fought the studio that the role be played by a deaf actor." RIP Mark Medoff. pic.twitter.com/FGda39Ox1X
— DeafInMedia (@DeafInMedia) April 24, 2019
This concrete demonstration of allyship struck a chord.
— Julian Peedle-Calloo (@PeedleCalloo) April 25, 2019
RIP Mark Medoff who showed us what allyship can look like by creating roles for Deaf actors. https://t.co/r417DB6pZr
— Jacob Anderson-Minshall (@jake2point0) April 25, 2019
This is powerful. And important to know. We need this kind of allyship. And Hollywood can do it. Anyone can. RIP Mark Medoff. Thank you for that story. https://t.co/i3raDx7VTY
— melissa malzkuhn (@mezmalz) April 25, 2019
Medoff was bestowed an honorary degree from Gallaudet University for “exemplary service to the deaf and hard of hearing community” in 1981. His advocacy for deaf representation continued well beyond this point, where he insisted to producers that the 1986 movie adaptation of the same name also feature a deaf actress.
Mark Medoff, the brilliant mind behind the Tony Award winning play, “Children Of A Lesser God,” has passed at 79. He insisted and fought the studio that the role be played by a deaf actor; I would not be here as an Oscar winner if it weren’t for him. RIP Dear Mark. pic.twitter.com/wpIJJqW00x
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) April 24, 2019
Medoff’s allyship was extended to small local productions of the play:
This is exactly how he replied to my young theater when we wanted to do the play but didn't have enough deaf or hearing-impaired actors. He was kind about it but firm.
— Christopher Prentice (@XprPrentice) April 25, 2019
We are working on something that will delve into these issues more. We would like to know from you: Who do you consider to be a good ally to deaf people in the media? What makes that person a good ally? What recommendations do you have for those who wish to be good allies for the deaf community?