In early June, our In Conversation event featured Jodee Mundy being interviewed by Alex Jones at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta. This series provides a professional platform for artists to discuss – in an in-depth way – their work, themes and approach. This particular event featured: Jodee, an interdisciplinary artist, a native Auslan signer and the only hearing member of a Deaf family; and Alex, an actor, entrepreneur and advocate for the Deaf community. It took place immediately before four performances of Jodee’s work Personal.
The conversation itself was in Auslan. It was interpreted into spoken English and was open captioned. Riona Tindal introduced Jodee and Alex.
What follows are extracts from the 7 June interview followed by a series of reflective questions we asked Jodee a few weeks after the event.
Alex Jones: With Personal, how did you come up with the idea of sharing the story? What was the seed that planted it?
Jodee Mundy: In 2011, I went to an artist residency. One person said: “Your art is all fine and okay but your family, wow, tell me everything. I want to know all about it.” I was really resistant at first to sharing my story. However, I eventually took the time to gain some insight, and thought I would start drawing pictures, like a comic. I kept drawing, and drawing, and drawing. I created over 200 during one year. And, I thought, wow, I have a story here!
AJ: So from the 200 drawings, you created a script? How did it start?
JM: I applied for a Hot House artist residency and I showed my drawings and I said: “I want to write a story that fits with these pictures.” I was given a thousand dollars, a car and a house in the country for two weeks. I was mostly alone and I spent my days writing and the nights freaked out. It was terrifying being alone out there!
AJ: Is Personal fully accessible?
JM: At the start, I thought audiences need to be on an equal footing. I thought the show needs to be one hundred percent accessible. But, my team said: “Whose world is this? It’s not the Deaf world. It’s not the hearing world. It’s your world.” My team pushed me to think about Personal as an expression of my art rather than trying to please everyone all the time. And that, in this setting for me, is okay.
AJ: You have had two quite large productions. I’m wondering if you have any secrets of the trade that you could share?
JM: The secret really is to know how to write funding applications. If you want to be successful, if you want to be paid, you need to find the money and you need to know how to write an application. There needs to be access to alternatives to English.
AJ: What’s needed to succeed?
JM: If you want to be a successful artist, you have to be slightly crazy! You need to prepare to be very poor for a while. And, that’s the truth. And, you have to learn how to write well. You need to have determination day and night until you have that breakthrough. It can be a sweet ride after that. It’s lovely now.
AJ: I’m interested in the drawings. I’m wondering if you are planning to make that part of an exhibition?
JM: My drawings are really terrible, Alex. Really bad. It’s not my strength at all. But, who knows, if the show tours, maybe we could exhibit them in the theatre foyers. But then we would need to buy frames and cart them around. And, I would need to write an application for that!
Post-interview reflections with Jodee Mundy
Accessible Arts: Can you describe this experience of being interviewed in Auslan?
Jodee Mundy: I felt a real sense of deepening as I spoke with Alex. It dawned on me how much time I spend talking about my practice in English to hearing people who know very little about our community. To talk in my native language in front of the local Deaf community was really meaningful to me and to everyone there. I had never done this before. It felt empowering to speak with our mob who genuinely understand why I do what I do,
AA: There was a lot of energy in the room which we were fully expecting. The fact that you and Alex know each other no doubt contributed to this. How well did you know Alex before the interview?
JM: Alex was one of my role models as a kid. I remember him as fresh-faced young man when he arrived from America straight out of the National Theatre of the Deaf. He became an actor with the Australian Theatre of the Deaf. We have known one another for almost 30 years, and are both active in creating art and nurturing the culture of the Deaf community.
Energy also came from the fact that it was exciting for us to be participating in this In Conversation event. I hope it was interesting for the audience too. Our community rarely gets to see Auslan artists, as there are so few of us, let alone, see Auslan artists talk about their practice.
AA: Has this interview with Alex given additional perspective to your arts practice?
JM: Yes, totally. It has affirmed how much we need to keep signing about our culture. We need to create pathways for Deaf and signing artists, and put on cultural events in Auslan (separate from interpreted events). These are needed so that Deaf and signing artists can look inward and dig deeper into our cultural treasure chest and pull out beauties that audiences never imagined!
AA: We hope to see you again in the not-too-distant future. When is your next project due for public viewing?
JM: Next, I have Personal off to Darwin Festival. Imagined Touch will be part of the Spill Festival of Performance at the Barbican in London in November. My next project, haha. I think it will be in 2020 or 2021. It’s a big one, requiring deep research and extensive partnerships. If I can lay down the foundations and get the support we need, then that’s when you will see it!
Feature photo: Jodee Mundy and Alex Jones by Sophie Clausen, Riverside Theatres
This page was first published on June 29, 2018.