In Austin there was a premiere of an upcoming TV show “This Close,” which is written and cast by two Deaf people, Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman.
The show will be streamed on Sundance Now, which is like Netflix or Hulu (but much smaller). Its release is on February 14.
Josh’s role is Michael and Sho’s role is Kate. Michael’s character doesn’t speak, only signs, while Kate’s character can sign, speak — and is hard of hearing. The show is about the two’s friendship as they go through ups and downs in their professional and personal lives.
Here is the interview!
Shoshannah: I’m Shoshannah Stern
Josh: I’m Josh Feldman
The Daily Moth: What is “This Close” about?
Shoshannah: That’s always a tough one for me – I tend to go on and on about it, so I’ll pass this to Josh.
Josh: This Close, at its heart, is about friendship, about the people who get you through the tough times and the good times. It’s about that, but it’s also about other things also like being deaf in a hearing world. It’s about growing up, figuring out who you are, the people you meet along the way.
Shoshannah: It’s about owning yourself – everything you are. You’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days. Life is always messy, but the glue that really holds everything together is the connections you make.
The Daily Moth: You both have a Deaf family, and went to a Deaf school. Did your experiences influence the characters identities?
Shoshannah: We made a conscious choice to make a different choice for Kate’s [Shoshannah’s character] Deaf identity, her path, because we felt like in real life, our Deaf identity is the same. We both have multigenerational deaf families. We both attended Deaf school. We both went to Gallaudet. I feel like many Deaf people don’t have that experience, it’s really rare. So that’s why we decided to change Kate’s identity. She doesn’t have a Deaf family, she didn’t go to a Deaf school, and she struggles with her identity a little bit more. We felt it’d be more interesting if it was a little bit different. We can see how Michael [Josh’s character] really helps her find her footing, find her identity in that specific way.
For me, my family is Deaf, and I can hear and speak some. I always feel like people look at me like I’m special, like I’m better than my family, but I’m like, ‘No, it’s the opposite!’ I feel like I struggle more. With my siblings and my parents, people know that they’re Deaf and are more collaborative. They know they have to write back and forth and gesture more. With me, they immediately think I understand them 100% of the time, they think I’m okay, and expect me to catch everything. That affects me. It affects who I am. I question myself more in some situations. So I wanted to show that. I wanted to show that it’s not always better. For Michael, people know he’s Deaf, so they know he needs an interpreter, they know they need to gesture with him more, so you will see that represented in the show more.
Josh: I think the two of use lucky enough to have been raised in Deaf families where access to language was never a problem. We went to Deaf schools, Gallaudet, and all that, but for me, after I graduated Gallaudet and I moved to L.A. I was taken aback, like “Oh. It’s a hearing world.” I had to learn to deal with hearing people. We’ve both had that similar experience, so I think that’s why we wanted to show that experience of Deaf people living in a big city. How do they get through the day if they don’t have a big Deaf community. That’s why, in the show, Kate and Michael become codependent on each other, because where else can they find other Deaf people? They bond so well together, so I think we wanted to explore that on the show as well.
The Daily Moth: Deaf celebrities Marlee Matlin and Nyle DiMarco will be on the show. What are their role?
Shoshannah: With Nyle, we wanted him on the show ages ago. Back when we first started writing the first ten episodes, that was around the same time I met him. I was living in New York at that time. After meeting him, we hit it off, we had a lot in common. It’s not often you find people like that in this business. We wanted to support him, and he was always open to collaborating and discussing different ideas for how we could collaborate. After the initial ten episodes, then the web series, and then we got here, we always knew we wanted to create something for him. So his character appears in two episodes.
Josh: As for Marlee, obviously she has always been one of the most visible and well known Deaf actresses.
Josh: Yes, THE most well known. We did write this role for her. We knew we wanted her for this role. We were really hoping she’d say yes to this role. If not, then we would have had to rewrite it. But, lucky enough she said yes. It was great working with her. She’s in one episode, and I think that was one of the most fun experiences on the set.
Shoshannah: Yes, yes.
The Daily Moth: What are some of the reasons why you two cast yourselves in the main roles?
Josh: It’s always important to have authenticity on the screen. It doesn’t matter what kind of disability you have, as long as the actor portraying the disability actually has it. For us, it only felt natural for us to take these roles, because not only do we know these roles so well as writers, but we’re also Deaf. It only felt natural that we step into those shoes.
Shoshannah: I made a conscious choice to only take roles that I felt I could really bring all of myself to. There were some roles where I felt like I really can’t do that, it was hard for me to find truth in it. Meaning, if I took that role, I wouldn’t do it justice. Of all the roles I’ve done, of course, sometimes I have to say ‘hold it, hold it’. I always try to have a chat with the director, with the writers – there’s always a reason for a small part in the greater arc of the story – what does that deaf character represent for other characters in the show. The main character has their own story arc, and the deaf character’s role is there to support that arc. I understand that, but my best experiences have been with shows that are open to new ideas, that are more able to collaborate, to have a conversation, I feel that’s where the magic happens, when we collaborate and become part of the story.
Josh: Even the hearing people who work with us could tell, ‘That’s how you tell a story’ because it’s from our perspective. Even hearing people with no knowledge of Deaf culture could tell that’s how it’s supposed to be because it comes from the right people. We should be the ones telling our own story.
The Daily Moth: How do we watch this show on February 14?
Josh: The first two episodes will be available on February 14th on Sundance Now. You can download the app on Apple TV, Roku, or you can subscribe to it through Amazon Prime by “add a channel” or go online on a web browser and visit sundancenow.com.
Shoshannah: And we have a code for one free month! SSF18 That code will let you watch one month free!
Josh: On February 14th we’ll release the first two episodes, then a new episode will be added every week until March 14th. After March 14th, all six episodes will be available and you can binge watch them all at once.
The Daily Moth: Thanks Josh and Shoshannah!