Transcript: Ana Maria Belo on Out of the Box
March 19th 2021
Growing up, Ana Maria Belo was a dedicated music student hiding a secret from her teachers and her peers. She was deaf. Now as the Ambassador for the Shepherd Centre, Ana Maria helps children with hearing loss. She joined Mia on Out of the Box to chat about her career as a deaf Actor, her relationship with music, the difference between little ‘d’ deaf and capital ‘D’ Deaf and her love for Dolly Parton.
Read the full transcript of Ana Maria Belo’s chat with Mia Hull below.
Mia: A big thank you to Eddy diamond for taking you through the morning today on FBi Radio. My name is Mia Hull, this show is called Out of the Box and today I’m joined by Ana Maria Belo.
Ana Maria plays the role of Anna in the film Unsound which will be screening at the Dendy Cinema in Newtown tonight.
We’ll talk about that later in the show, but right now I want to talk about all the moments that brought Ana Maria here because she is the ambassador for The Shepherd Centre, which is a deaf centre for kids. How did you end up in that role?
Ana Maria: As the ambassador for the Shepherd Centre, they contacted me after they read an interview that was done by beautiful Jennifer Trejo. The interview was about my work with John Cleese on Fawlty Towers, and about how I was describing his laughter. And then it also looked into my role that I did through tribes at the Ensemble Theatre. And they contacted me and said, “We would love to have a deaf ambassador, so would you like to be that person?” and I went and met with them and I said yes!
Mia: And when you say you’re a deaf ambassador there’s Deaf with a capital “D” and deaf with a little “d”, can you explain that difference to me?
Ana Maria: Yes, so Deaf with a capital “D” is that it’s a cultural deafness so which means that they are primarily using Auslan [Australian Sign Language] to communicate. And deaf with a little “d” is what I am so I use hearing aids, I use, well I lip read, but to communicate I’m aural first.
Mia: How old were you when you started to experience difficulty hearing?
Ana Maria: Ooh…seven I think, yeah it would’ve been around seven was my first operation, which was just like grommets in the ears and got my adenoids taken out, and yes it would have been really young.
Mia: And you were in school when you started to notice the difference in hearing?
Ana Maria: Well, the weird thing is because there’s a child you are so resilient you don’t know there’s an issue and children are amazing at disguising the hearing loss and disguising that things are going on, because they’re not aware that these changes are so profound. So I realised that with my little brother, we used to be watching TV and mum would go, “Turn the TV down!” when the phone would ring and so we would turn the volume down, and we had a game where we would make up what the people were saying on the TV, like we’d basically be reading their lips and we would make it up and whisper it to each other so, who knew that that was going to like save my life later.
Mia: Yeah so that’s how you learnt to lipread from playing that game with your brother?
Ana Maria: Yeah, well we actually do it with survival, like for everyone. Everyone lipreads to a degree, they just don’t realise it and I think, what with Coronavirus and everybody wearing masks I think a lot of people have actually gone, “Huh, what are you saying? can you say it again.” I think they’ve actually not realised just how much they’re relying on it being a visual cue. When I first realised that we were going to be wearing masks for a long time, like I panicked, I just went into a oh no because I’m aware that I need to see people’s mouth, like I just have to. Yes I have my hearing aids, but that only takes me so far, and the rest for me is what’s happening with your mouth, what’s happening with your face, and yeah it was interesting, it was hard, and a lot of the deaf community, capital “D” Deaf and little “d” deaf, we all struggled, big time. But the wonderful thing was I think, a lot of people struggled, yeah, so that was kind of nice to get some sort of awareness in that respect.
Mia: You use Auslan to communicate as well don’t you?
Ana Maria: Yes, but not with my family, my family don’t know Auslan. I don’t really have anybody close to me that, in terms of my relationships, I have friends within the Auslan community so they are the people that I communicate in Auslan with, I wish I had more!
Mia: Where did you learn it if your family doesn’t use it?
Ana Maria: I learnt it, actually the first person that taught me was a girl at school, Edwina Clarke. And her parents are both deaf, and she grew up being their ears really, and being their voice. So she’s a CODA, so a Child of Deaf Adult, and there’s a lot of responsibility on CODA’s. And she was the first one who actually taught me how to sign. She taught me the alphabet, she taught me a few words. And then at NIDA [National Institute of Dramatic Art] they were very helpful, and when I was going in for one of my other operations, they were like, “We’ll teach you a little bit of sign language” and that was really nice, but then I went and got my actual certificate through the Deaf Society. When was that… two thousand and…fourteen I want to say, I went and studied it properly.
Mia: So you were taught Auslan originally by someone else in year 11 at school, were you getting other support at school or at home?
Ana Maria: At school- no, it was a bit of a secret. We kind of decided to keep my deafness- yeah we kept it to ourselves. I think my mum was very wanting to protect me as much as she could, and I think, back then it was a very different time and kids would get teased because of wearing glasses, but we didn’t know anybody else that had hearing aids. We didn’t know anyone else that was deaf. We didn’t have that in our world and I think she just really worried because I was singing, because I was acting, I think she worried that I would be treated differently. So we just decided we keep that a big fat secret- not anymore!
Mia: But while you’re holding onto that secret you’re in high school, really involved in music. How do you do those two things at the same time?
Ana Maria: I had the best teachers ever, who didn’t know I was deaf. And, in a way, I think that that was a godsend, because they didn’t treat me any differently, their teaching techniques were amazing, and what they got us to do with music was learn to listen to the music. So like, they would walk in and go “ok what’s this interval? “bum baam!”” [makes noise imitating musical notes], and then we’d go “oh!” and you’d have to write it down.
And then they would teach us to take music and separate the notes in our heads. Like, I cannot tell you how, well, stressful it is, but also they trained our ears to listen. Not just to hear, to listen. So now my relationship with music is very very different. So if I’m hearing like a song on the radio I don’t just hear it all at once, I can see it. So for me listening to music is a very tactile body thing so I normally have to have my hands on something so I can feel it. But I see the music, so I can see where the notes are going, and I think everybody experiences music in very different ways and for me it’s extremely joyful. So with my hearing aids now, I hear things differently, but before there were notes that I couldn’t hear with my ears, but I could feel with my body. So I would gravitate to other notes, I would gravitate to notes that I liked where it fit in my body, because some didn’t feel very nice.
Mia: And around the time your music teachers were showing you how to interpret music in this way, your brother was getting married, and you encountered another problem with your hearing. Tell me about that?
Ana Maria: The phone was ringing non-stop, back then you had your house phone, so I would pick up the house phone and straight away take it to my right ear. But I couldn’t hear what they were saying on the other end so I would be yelling at the florist, the photographer, a bunch of them and just saying, “Well just ring me back when your phone is fixed, ok bye bye” and hang up. I hung up on almost everybody not realising that my right ear was disappearing.
Mia: How was it disappearing, what was happening inside your ear?
Ana Maria: So I had a cholesteatoma, so I had a skin ball growing on the eardrum. So basically it’s like a cyst growing on the eardrum and it can either grow outwards towards the artery or internally, and mine was going both ways so it was quite yucky and it stank, and it hurt.
Mia: What’s the first song you’ve chosen to play today?
Ana Maria: Ah the first song I’ve chosen is Pachelbel’s Canon because my teachers at Bethlehem College, this was one of the first songs that my music teachers would make us dissect. And it was this song that we had to notate just by listening to it, like we weren’t allowed to look at any sheet music, we had to take each note and separate it and write it out and- this song, if it wasn’t for this I don’t think I would understand music today. Like it’s been drummed into me. And it was the first time I was ever able to realise just how you can separate music and how each part melds together to make this beautiful thing. Like if you’re listening to this, like just touch the speakers, I don’t know, yeah, touch the speakers. But notice that each instrument as it comes in, it’s going to vibrate at a certain level, like it doesn’t, like they all sound different, yes, but listen to the cello, like feel the cello, it will vibrate at a slower level, so you are going to actually feel it more. [excerpt of cello plays]
And then when the violins come in, they go faster so you will feel it, it’ll be harder to feel it if it’s the first time you’re doing it, but you will notice that it’s like yeah, they vibrate really really really quickly, yeah.
Mia: Let’s experience this song on every front, here on FBi Radio 94.5 it’s Pachelbel’s Canon.
[Pachelbel’s Canon plays]
Mia: That song was chosen by my guest today on Out of the Box, deaf actor Ana Maria Belo. It was Pachelbel’s Canon.
Ana Maria, you encountered another obstacle when it came time for you to sit your HSC at the end of high school, what happened?
Ana Maria: I had to do an aural exam, but what we found out was that it wasn’t just my right ear that was disappearing, it was my left ear that was disappearing. So I had no idea about that. We’d been going through like operations and they’d taken out whole bunches of my bone, my mastoidectomy on my right ear and so I understood that that was the problem. And we went in for a check up to see how it was all going, and the audiologist said well, “Have we ever thought about having a hearing aid” and I said, “Well we can’t put anything on that ear because it has to stay dry, it has to stay open” and she was like, “No no no, I mean for your left ear” I’m like, “My left ear? my left ear is fine?” she’s like, “It’s not, it’s dropped” and I’m like, “When?” So we tried to find out when, we couldn’t see an exact date but it was somewhere between the age of 8 and the age of 15 it had dropped significantly and that was because of nerve damage we couldn’t work out why. So they gave me a hearing aid, which pretty much looked like a brick. It was this big old analogue thing, it was massive and I remember putting it on going I can’t do anything with that, like I can’t function with this thing.
Mia: And at that point your deafness was a secret at school as well wasn’t it?
Ana Maria: Yeah, yeah and it was this weird, why would I use this? But the way that that thing processed sound was like the worst sound ever so I just didn’t understand how this was going to help me. I spoke to one of the teachers and they said, “Well why don’t you just use it for the HSC so that for any exams where- just so that you could hear what the- what are they called- the person that comes in, the adjudicator, the person that comes in and has to give you- “you’ve got this many minutes left”- that you can hear all of that stuff”. And I was like, “Hm ok” and I tried to use it for the aural exam, for the HSC for music. And I remember taking it off half way just going this is not helping me at all. But I still came in the top 10% for the aural exam.
Mia: And where did you go after school to study?
Ana Maria: So I went to a place called Dynamite Dance Studios which was a full time performing arts course, so that was wonderful, which was David Atkins school. And then I went to NIDA for three years as an actor, which was great.
Mia: And you said NIDA before were very supportive of you, why did you need extra support from them?
Ana Maria: Well because through, so it was about, must’ve been in second year, I think I had a conversation with one of the tutors. I can’t remember how it came about, it was my singing teacher I think, and she said, “If you’re going to do the reconstruction surgery”- Oh that’s right it’s all coming back to me now- there was an option to do a reconstruction on my right ear, so they were going to put the bones back into my head. Because basically, the skin ball eats away, because there’s no oxygen in the eardrum, in the, yep in that area, in the ear canal, [laughs] I’ve forgotten what it’s called, in the ear canal there was no oxygen in there so when skin is growing it attaches to the bone and it eats it away. So it basically rots the bone. So they took it out, and they had to drill it all out. So I lost about three-quarters of my ear drum- Dr Paul is probably going to kill me if he’s listening to this because I’m probably getting all this wrong- but they took out about three-quarters of my ear drum and they took out two of the bones. So you’ve got a hammer, anvil, and a- hmm I think it’s a stirrup, there’s a third little one. They’re the tiniest bones in our body, they’re like super small. And they had to get rid of two of them. Those bones are the vibrating bones, so they vibrate on to the eardrum and create vibration, which gets transmitted to the brain, and we understand that as sound. All of that was removed, so there was an option to put them back in as a skin graft. So I spoke to them all, and NIDA said, “We want to support you, and we would like you to do this now, in second year, so that if something goes awry”- because it wasn’t a problem that they could hit a nerve and half my face would fall down- there was a whole bunch of things that could go wrong, and they said, “We’d like to support you through that, so go get it done now, in second year, and we’ll give you all the support you need.”
So it was great, instead of going to a voice tutorial they would send me down to Julia Cotton and she would teach me some basic Auslan signs that she knew, because she used to work with the Theatre of the Deaf so it was really lovely to get that support, it was great.
So we did the operation, it didn’t change my hearing though. But I did get my bones back in, so I got my balance back a little bit, which is good.
Mia: The next song you’ve chosen is slightly left of field…
Ana Maria: Yes
Mia: [Laughs] You can’t see this right now but the face Ana Maria is pulling is pure joy [Laughs]
Ana Maria: I love this song so much!
Mia: What is it?
Ana Maria: It’s called Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot
Mia: why did you choose this one?
Ana Maria: Because it’s the best song ever! I chose this song because I don’t think anyone can ever talk about me without this song attached, like it’s everything. This is the track that I will do at every single karaoke bar, everywhere I go, this has to go on. This is one of those songs that when I was a kid, and it actually on the first CD, it was the first CD I was ever given, that I ever bought, sorry, and it was those ones where, back in the day, it would be like “The hits of…” I can’t even remember what year it was, oh that’s bad, but it was “The Summer Hits of”- whatever year it was. And this was on there, and I remember it came on because I’d never heard it before and I went [excited gasp], “What is this joy!?” and in the sleeve you would get all the lyrics, so I sat down and in one afternoon I learnt every single lyric to this song in one afternoon and I went, “Yes! I’ve got it.” I didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t know what it meant back then and I just always had it in my pocket that it was just this song I knew, and then I think my favourite day ever was, I was auditioning for a new musical that Neil Armfield was directing, and I didn’t know what part I was going for, because it was just like a general audition. And they said, “Come in to the audition, bring a classical musical piece”- or a traditional musical piece I should say. So I came in and I sang this very traditional music theatre number, and then they were like, “How’s your sight singing?”. I’m like, “Yeah, pretty good.” And they gave me a piece of music, that could be best described as someone throwing ants on a piece of paper, and trying to sing this thing, which I did, which was all fine. So it was all very, you know, music theatre, and then they gave me the scene, and they were like, “Here you go, do you want to just have a read of this scene.” And the character, was the Fantail rapper, and I read the scene, and then at the end it says “The Fantail raps” and I went, “Oh! I can rap” and they went, Can you?”, I said, “Yep” and they went, “Can you rap now?” and I went, “Sure!” and I did- [laughs] and then I got the job!
Mia: That’s the perfect song to just have in the back of your pocket ready to go [laughs]
Ana Maria: Yep
Mia: And let’s dive into it right now on FBi, it’s Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot, and this one comes with a language warning.
[Baby Got Back plays]
Mia: You’re listening to FBi Radio 94.5 DAB or if you’re streaming online, that was Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot. It was a selection by my guest today on the show, Ana Maria Belo, a deaf actor.
When was the first time you faced discrimination based on your hearing loss?
Ana Maria: Ooh that would’ve been in 2006, in 2006 was the first time I kind of went uh huh things are different. I had just returned back from London, so I was living there for three years. And I came back to town and there was an audition for a show. And I turned up, and at an audition for a musical what normally happens is you, you turn up, you give them your headshot, CV, or they already have it but you get given a form and it’s like a, it’s just an audition form and it’s got your height, your dimensions, your details, your agent la la la, all of that kind of stuff and that’s normal. But in 2006 when I went in for this show, there was a second page on the back, and on the back it said, well there were two questions that I’d never seen before on a form. And it said, “Have you ever made a claim, a workers comp claim?” and I was like, “No”. And then the next question was, “Do you have any known hearing loss?” and I was like, “Um yes?” [confused laugh] like I didn’t know what to do with that information, with that question. Because you sign this, you sign it at the bottom like this is a statement, this is a legal document. And I get very funny about things I have to sign so I wrote yes. And then it said, “Do you have any medical condition that might hinder your ability to do this job- like deafness?” and I was like, “I have deafness, but it won’t hinder my ability to do this job” so I didn’t yeah, it kind of threw me. And anyway I walked in, handed in my form and I was standing there singing my song. Now because I can read lips, which is my little superpower, as I was singing I saw the director pick it up, turn it over and I saw him go, “Oh she’s deaf” and lean over and say to the person next to him, “She’s deaf.” And they were like, “Ok thank you very much, see you later” and I- look, I could’ve sang it terribly, I could have done a really bad job, who knows. But at the time, in my life at that point I kind of really did well in auditions. I was always getting a recall, I was always, you know I might not have gotten the job, but I was always getting to that next round. So for me to not get to that next round and having seen him go, “Oh she’s deaf”, and this is a brand new thing, I took it personally, like big time, big time. And so I kind of thought this is all too hard, and if now I have to declare my deafness, well I just don’t think I should sing again, like this is just going to be hard. I mean I was struggling anyway, because my hearing was deteriorating even more and so I made the choice then that I had to look elsewhere, that I had to focus more on my acting, or focus more on writing and filmmaking.
Mia: Did you see that question on other forms when you were auditioning?
Ana Maria: Yeah.
Ana Maria: I don’t know, I then, so I wallowed in self pity for a few years. And then there was a show that was coming in, that I really wanted to audition for, but I was scared that that was going to stand in my way. So I went and asked a few people and said, “Look I want to do something about this, this is discrimination like why is it here” and the feedback, or the information that I was given was that- look and I mean I’m not a lawyer and I’m not an authority on it- but what I was told was that at some point somewhere, someone must have sued a producer and said, “Your show made me lose my hearing” so they were doing it to protect themselves. Which I get, I totally understand, but I feel that doing that at the audition point isn’t great, because you’re already making a judgement on what you think a deaf person can do, so for me I took great issue with that. It got worse, some of them were actually asking, “Will you go sit a hearing test?” and I’m like, “What!? why?” your ability to hear and your ability to listen are two separate things but I don’t think people understand that.
But having said that, in two thousand and, when was it- two thousand and…I want to say 2015 was the first commercial show that I auditioned for, which was Fawlty Towers which didn’t have it there. It was so great, and I spoke- so Louise Withers is the producer for that, and I spoke to her and I said, “You do not understand how important it was to see that question just not on there, like that really really really made my heart explode” and it was even greater because I got the job! Yeah it was really good, so that was a massive shift, and I want to say that I haven’t seen it since, I’m just trying to check my brain, yeah I haven’t seen it since.
Ana Maria: Yeah, so that’s a great thing, really good.
Mia: Ana Maria you’ve chosen a Dolly Parton song to play for today [laughs]
Ana Maria: Yep!
Mia: What’s the song?
Ana Maria: It’s 9 to 5.
Mia: Why have you chosen this track?
Ana Maria: Ah ’cause she’s the queen, look again this is one of my karaoke songs, so this, look who doesn’t love Dolly Parton right, like of course. And I think for me, I never really understood when my love of Dolly Parton started like she was just always there, like I’ve had other people that I’ve been obsessed with, like Carole King and stuff that, Dolly was just there, and so much so that when she did Islands in the Stream with Kenny Rogers, I thought they were married. I genuinely thought the two of them were married because that’s what they were singing. So I was obsessed with her from a really young age, but it wasn’t ’till I was doing Steel Magnolias and we were travelling all over Australia and nothing was better than driving through Tamworth with Dolly Parton blaring in the hire car, like that was the best, absolutely the best. So I became very Dolly obsessed whilst we were doing Steel Magnolias, obviously, and 9 to 5 became my go to karaoke song, but then so much so that later, like she’s created a musical called 9 to 5 – The Musical. And when I heard about this I just went I have to be involved in this somehow. So I was really lucky that I got cast in it. So I got to play, well, Covid happened, but I was cast as Margaret, the drunk, but yeah we were just about to- we were a week, a week away from starting rehearsals and then Covid happened.
Mia: We’re going to dive into that track now on FBi radio, this is 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton, you’re listening to Out of the Box with me, Mia Hull, and Ana Maria Belo.
[9 to 5 plays]
Mia: 9 to 5, that was Dolly Parton on FBi. That song was selected by my guest on Out of the Box, deaf actor Ana Maria Belo.
Ana Maria, in 2012 you attended a wedding with lots of drumming and lots of loud music, what happened?
Ana Maria: Lots happened. I was having a great time, it was a great old wedding, it was fabulous, and my parents were there, and then they were complaining that it was really loud, and I said, “Yeah yeah look it’s fine, it’s just like we’re at a rock concert, it will be ok” and we left there and all of our ears were ringing. Like mum was complaining, she was like, [scoffs] “Oh it’s really loud” I said, “It’s fine, we’ll all go to bed, when we wake up in the morning it’ll be ok.” They woke up fine, I woke up with a swollen head and distortion- so everyone sounded like robots to me. And it stayed that way for 16 weeks, so I couldn’t be around any sound. So every sound, it’s like every sound came at me fat, so it was just like “pwoah” [makes distorted static noise] every tiny like touch of a piece of wood, anything, it was just so painful. So they were trying to work out why this was going on, but apparently my bones had swelled, yeah to be honest we still don’t know exactly why that happened, they think that I had an underlying issue, which was that I had one part of Meniere’s Disease, where the bones just swell up so I just can’t be around really loud noises now.
Mia: And so after the 16 weeks what happened?
Ana Maria: I had lost so much of my hearing that they said, “We want to give you hearing aids” and I was like-
Mia: Had you used hearing aids since you put away the ones that you got during your HSC?
Ana Maria: I only wore it for the HSC, that was it. I threw, like I didn’t throw it away but it was in a cupboard, like I never touched it again. But I didn’t, I didn’t want hearing aids. Look I had the shortest pixie haircut, like it was really tiny, it was really really short and I just felt like I couldn’t hide it anymore if I had my hearing aids everyone would see it. My career was over, because there are no people on TV with hearing aids, I couldn’t see them, they’re not in my world, and I didn’t know anyone who wore hearing aids. I didn’t think that I, look I knew at some point in my life it would happen, I just didn’t think it would happen at 35. Like 75 sure, 35 I thought, to me I took it as a sense of failure, because I’d been doing really well with lip reading, I was really good at using my eyes, I was really great at that, and I thought no this is who I am, I don’t need them.
Mia: Did you continue going to auditions?
Ana Maria: No! No. Oh actually, I lied, because the day before I’d actually done the wedding, I’d gone to that wedding, I booked a commercial. I did book a commercial [gasps] That’s right! I booked a commercial and I was on set, and I was like how am I gonna do this and I pulled the other actress over and I said, “Listen, this is what’s happened” because I kind of knew her, so I was just like, “Hey, this is what’s happening, I need you to help me, ’cause I can’t hear anyone.” So she was great, so she was like, “Don’t worry, I got you” because I just felt like I couldn’t say anything to the director or to the, to the first AD, I tried to say to the first AD, “Oh I’ve got an ear infection” and she was like, [groan] “Ok fine, whatever” and I was like ok she’s no help, I’m not going to tell her what’s really going on- but yeah, I did do that. But otherwise that was it, after I did that ad I didn’t do anything, I genuinely thought my life was over.
Mia: But then you took an acting master class with Larry Moss and why did that end up being so important for you?
Ana Maria: That was really big. My friend Lyle Brooks rang me from Melbourne and he was like, “You have to do Larry Moss’ master class” and I was like, “Nup I’m not doing it” and he pushed me to apply because you have to apply and then they have to take you in. So then they did take me in, and this was the first time he was doing it in Sydney. I didn’t tell anyone, no one knew about what was going on so I had a month, I had a month to trial my hearing aids because they cost $10,000 these ones, you get one month to give it a red-hot go before you decide to continue or hand them back. And this was going to be within that month, I think it was the last week of that month actually. I had been practicing my singing with my singing partner, and then the day before they said to us, “Larry’s going to be side coaching you” and I said, “How is that going to happen, how is that going to happen because I need him to put his hand up so that I can see him” and they were like, “Why?” and so I had to confess to what was going on. And he pulled me aside the night before and he just went, “Talk to me, what are you going to need” and I said, “If you’re going to stop us, just put your hand up so I can see you” and he said, “Ok, not a problem.”
But on the first day, so we were on the second day, so the first day we were watching, and Shaun Renny was a part of the masterclass as well, but there not as an actor but as a music theatre performer. So they had to bring in a song and he brought in a song, and my other good friend Jeremy Brennan was on the piano accompanying him. And Larry Moss was going through, like I think Shaun got two words out, and Larry was like, “Ok stop” [laughs] and broke it down and said, “this is what you do with a music theatre piece and with a song you stop, you listen to the accompaniment and work out what is the accompaniment doing,
what are the words doing, as a monologue, all of that. So he was breaking it all down, then he made all of us in the audience close our eyes and listen to the accompaniment. And I didn’t think anything of it, I went ok yep, closing my eyes, listening. And I just started crying straight away because I realised I’d never actually heard music with my eyes closed before, like actually heard it. I’ve heard Jeremy play the piano so many times and he’s playing for me, but I’m right next to him and I’ve got my hand on the piano, I’ve got my feet there. But I was at the back, I was at the back of the auditorium and I had my eyes closed and I just went the music is in here, like in here, like it’s in my head and I didn’t know what that was and so I just was crying my eyes out. And then he got Shaun to do his, and Shaun started singing, and I couldn’t understand how this beautiful sound was coming out of him and I wasn’t having to be that close to touch him to hear it, like I could hear it here, oh my god so I was just a mess and just crying and the guy next to me was like, “Are you ok?” and I said, “I’m fine!” and he was like, “Is it too loud in your hearing aids?” I said, “No I’ve never heard music like this before!” So now every time I hear that piece it’s just this flash right back into that auditorium, sitting there, hearing it, and actually realising I’m hearing music for the first time with my eyes closed, I didn’t realise that I’d never done that before, ever.
Mia: I think now’s a good time to jump into that song that you’re talking about, so it is from Parade the musical?
Ana Maria: Yes.
Mia: What’s it called?
Ana Maria: It’s called Leo’s Statement, and it’s Leo’s Statement – It’s hard to speak my heart.
[Leo’s Statement – It’s hard to speak my heart plays]
Mia: On FBi Radio 94.5, that was Leo’s Statement – It’s hard to speak my heart. It was a selection by my guest on Out of the Box, Ana Maria Belo, who is a deaf actor.
Ana Maria tonight at Dendy Cinema in Newtown there’ll be a Q&A, and a screening of the film Unsound, where you play the role Anna. How did you become involved with that film?
Ana Maria: Ooh, that’s a long story. So I know Ally who wrote the film, she’s a friend of mine. And I was away on tour and she contacted me and just said, “Hey, I’ve written this thing, can you have a read of it, just from a deaf perspective, how is it looking?” and I gave her my feedback and I just went, “Here you go.”
This is a long time ago, we’re talking 2016, and then I think I saw her next draft, I think I did see the second draft of it and I was like, “Ok cool this is great” and then I didn’t hear anything about it and I just thought that’s just the nature of our industry, things pop up and then they disappear. And then it wasn’t until- I think I’m going to guess and say about 2017, and my agent rang and she said, “Hey, they’re doing auditions for this film and they’re looking for people that know how to use Auslan” and I said, “Oh what’s the film” she told me the premise and I went, “I know this film.” [chuckles] And at the time there was another character in there, so this is in the early early early drafts, so I was actually initially put in as the mother to the main character, who was dying. And now in this version, yes she’s gone, so she’s not there. So then I think they were just looking for another way for me to be involved, so they created a character called Anna, which is great so yeah it’s nice to be written in.
Mia: So in the film Unsound are you playing the role of a deaf person?
Ana Maria: No! She’s a CODA, so she’s a Child Of Deaf Adults, so she can hear but she’s losing her hearing and she is there in the- so there’s a deaf club, and in the deaf club, she is like the bridge between the deaf members, but also being able to encourage and bring in the hearing members to kind of teach them Auslan and to get them going.
So within the hierarchy of the deaf community a Coda is quite up there, because they have inherited the language and they are the, I guess the bridge between the hearing and the deaf world, and it’s beautiful. There’s a whole bunch of different elements into this film, there’s like the deafness, there’s transgender, there’s so many stories and there’s so many things going on that I think it is really important with storytellers as well, is that we go well who has the right to tell somebody’s story, and I think that’s a massive conversation that’s happening in the world right now- who has the right to tell your story.
What I’m noticing is that there’s a wonderful thing at the moment which is happening which is authentic casting and there’s wonderful awareness right now, great. What I think there needs to be more of is education, so like just the difference of what’s a little “d” deaf, what’s a capital “D” Deaf, what’s hard-of-hearing, what is the difference between all of those things, because each culture is different.
Mia: The phrase that you just used – authentic casting, does that mean casting a person in a role with a disability, that the actor actually has?
Ana Maria: Yes, so yeah and I think my feeling on that, because I know this has come up a lot with Sia and a few other things that have happened just recently, but I think if you are in a minority group and there is a role that needs a minority- that is a minority character, then why would you get somebody who’s able-bodied, why, why would you do that? You’ve just taken an opportunity away from someone who can represent that character authentically.
Mia: By the same token how often do minority groups get the opportunity to represent an able-bodied person in cinema?
Ana Maria: Not many! Not many, like I can’t think of one. And that’s what I’m striving to do, I mean I, look I am lucky, I am lucky like I just got to do an episode on a TV show, that character is not deaf. The last few things I’ve done, that character is not deaf, I’m super duper lucky that I can do that. But I feel like my disability is a little bit invisible, like you can’t- if you didn’t know you wouldn’t be able to tell. I think somebody mentioned CSI, or it’s one of those shows that I don’t really watch but there is an American actress I want to say, who has cerebral palsy and her character, the cerebral palsy isn’t part of the storyline, and I’m like, “Yes! Great!” And that’s what I’m striving for, that’s what I want to see, where you have these wonderful actors who have a disability but their role in the show isn’t about their disability, it’s like well why can’t they be the lawyer, why can’t they be the chick that runs the café that’s in love with the guy next door, why can’t they be those characters? Why does it have to be [gasp] “Let’s talk about their disability now”, and it be, oh what’s the word- “inspirational porn” I think now we’re at an age where we all have Instagram, well most of us, we have Instagram, we have social media, we have all of those things, so everyone now has a voice, so when things get cast and it’s like hold on a second that doesn’t represent me, the producers are going to hear about it. And I think that’s a really good thing, it’s keeping people accountable.
Mia: Certainly a lot to look forward to with the film Unsound. There’ll be a Q&A and a screening of that film tonight at Dendy Cinema in Newtown. You can catch it at 6:45 p.m. and Ana Maria will be there, fielding your questions, all of the questions that I’ve missed today. Ana Maria, thank you so much for joining me today on Out of the Box!
Ana Maria: No worries! My pleasure, thanks for having me!
Mia: You’re welcome. So Ana Maria is an ambassador for The Shepherd Centre which is a charity that helps children who are born deaf. If you did want to find more information about that, I’ll pop the details to that up in the programs page on fbiradio.com
Ana Maria, what is the last song you would like to play today?
Ana Maria: I would like to play Christine Anu’s Colours of Your Life, which is our song from the film.
Mia: Amazing! This is Colours of Your Life by Christine Anu on FBi Radio 94.5.
Don’t go anywhere, right after this Bri Kennedy will be looking after you for lunch. Thanks,
[Colours of Your Life plays]