Featured Playwright — Chris Dodd

Playwrights Guild of Canada
8 min readApr 1, 2024

Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Treaty 6 based (Edmonton), award-winning Deaf actor, playwright, accessibility advocate and Governor General Innovation Award finalist, Chris Dodd!

Chris is the founder and artistic director of SOUND OFF, Canada’s national festival devoted to Deaf performance. He holds a degree from the University of Alberta’s Drama program and has been working within Edmonton’s theatre community, and across Canada, for over 25 years. His play, Deafy, was presented as part of Highwire Series during the Citadel Theatre’s 2022/23 season. It was published by Playwrights Canada Press as part of the anthology, Interdependent Magic: Disability Performance in Canada and is currently touring across Canada, as well as internationally. Other plays include Alicia and the Machine, Indra’s Gift, and Please Remain Behind the Shield. Notable performances include the role of Alphonse in Ultrasound at Theatre Passe Muraille. Recent film credits include the role of Odin in the feature film, Finality of Dusk. In 2019 he was the recipient of the Guy Laliberté Prize for innovation and creative leadership by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Tell us how you got your start writing plays.

I wrote my first play in high school. I had missed a chance to be part of my school’s grade 11 production, so my drama teacher said, “Why do you write next year’s play?” I decided to take him up on the challenge and wrote a play with myself as the central character, roughly based on my life at the time, when I was making a transition from being hard of hearing to being profoundly deaf. Although the play reflected my inexperience as a new playwright, I found that I relished the chance to tell my story and have my characters be the mouthpieces for the particular challenges of that time.

I continued writing during my teenage years and entered into a number of teen playwriting competitions, some of which I won.

Following high school, I studied Drama at the University of Alberta. However, upon graduating with my degree, I found that the climate was inhospitable and there was little interest in collaborating or working with myself or other Deaf artists. I gave up on writing during this time, since there were no outlets for my participation.

Fortunately, around 10 years ago, there started to be a seismic shift in the mainstream theatre community with organizations beginning to acknowledge their systemic exclusion of artists on the margins and starting to take their first steps towards change. While this transition is still ongoing, with still so much more vital work to do, it has allowed me to find a voice within the mainstream theatre community.

Your play Deafy was recently published by Playwrights Canada Press in Interdependent Magic: Disability Performance in Canada. Can you share what your experience with publication in an anthology was like?

The planning for the anthology began in early 2020. The bulk of the work took place during the pandemic, so the process from page to print was long. However, I was thrilled when it was finally published, especially as it marked the first time that Playwrights Canada Press had published a play by a Deaf author. It was also an honor to be featured alongside some amazing artists from the Disability Arts community.

Being published is interesting because it freezes the play in a specific point in time, while the text for Deafy has continued to evolve over the different tours for the show.

However, we are now at the point where we feel the text has become set and final, so I am hopeful the updated edition might be published as a stand-alone play in the future.

Deafy will also be performed by you in an Intrepid Theatre production on April 11th and 12th, 2024 in Victoria, BC, and has had several prior productions. How has the play changed since earlier productions, and what do you hope audiences will take away from the upcoming Intrepid Theatre production?

Deafy is a solo show which I perform and which is currently touring across Canada. It has been in development since 2016, when I first started writing it with support from veteran Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen. It went through a series of readings and reworking before the first full edition launched at the SummerWorks Performance Festival in 2019. After a pause for the pandemic, the play was further reworked for a Fringe production in 2021, along with an Ontario tour the following spring. We also had a full professional production in 2023 at the Citadel Theatre as part of their Highwire Series.

This year we will have stops with Intrepid Theatre for their Incoming Festival, along with dates for the Totes Festival in June. We have a few other pending dates that are not confirmed but we will head to The Hague, Netherlands for October for our first international engagement with STET English Theatre.

The show is a very personal one and deals with a Deaf public speaker, Nathan Jesper, who has been thrust into bizarre circumstances and which he must navigate his way through by telling stories from his own life. The show blends together the humorous and the peculiar, crafting an enigma that needs to be cracked by the audience. It has also been designed from the ground up to be accessible, as it features ASL, speech and surtitles, so it can be appreciated by everyone who attends.

I love bringing the show to both Deaf and hearing audiences. I always hope that hearing audiences who come to see it come away with a better understanding of the complexities of being Deaf and the challenges of identity within the community.

Chris Dodd in “Deafy”

Your organization SOUND OFF hosted the first ever Deaf Playwrights Retreat at the Banff Centre for the Arts in January 2024. What was the experience of the retreat like, and what did you take away from it?

We held a week-long Deaf Playwrights Retreat in January at the Banff Centre for the Arts, bringing in eight Deaf artists from across Canada. We had a core team of four organizers, one instructor, and three LSQ-ASL interpreters, for a total of eighteen attendees, all of them Deaf. It’s our understanding that this was the first gathering of its kind in the country.

We focused on writing from a non-traditional perspective, using a process called visual script, that allowed us to film and capture dialogue in ASL and work with it side-by-side with traditional text.

It was a fantastic experience for all of us to gather and experience the hospitality of the Centre, as well as the beauty of Banff National Park. It is vitally important for us to be able to tell our own stories with our own language, so this type of gathering is essential for helping craft our stories. It’s our hope to make this event return every two years.

Is there any advice you would offer to Deaf writers for the stage, or to those writing for Deaf performers?

For Deaf writers, network and connect with writers who are within your area, as well as those across the country. While language can often be a barrier for Deaf writers, adapt your writing to your strengths and consider filming yourself in lieu of a printed script. And don’t be afraid to seek out allies within the mainstream community who can help you develop your craft.

For those who want to write for Deaf performers, make sure that you have collaboration and insight from those who have the lived experience for what you are writing about to ensure authenticity.

What are you working on next?

I have been accepted as one of the participants for the Banff Playwrights Lab for this April, so I will be there for two weeks working on a new large cast production called The Deafening Roar. This play started development at the Citadel Theatre’s Playwright’s Lab last year. It is a departure for me, as I usually work on solo and small cast shows. The play will feature a mix of Deaf and hearing characters and it is set in a Deaf institution from the period of the 1960s to the 1980s. The plot follows the central character, Ben, a survivor of past abuse at the institution, who returns twenty years later to covertly insert himself into the lives of his past assailants and enact his revenge.

On the flip side, I am also working on two TYA plays, Alicia and the Machine and Big Ears. Both got their start through commissions from Concrete Theatre for their Sprouts Festival. Alicia and the Machine deals with a young girl who is teamed up with her Deaf father for a school bake-off contest. When things go awry, the girl fears her father will embarrass himself but by the end he surprises her with his resourcefulness. Big Ears has no Deaf characters but features a young girl who is self-conscious about her enormous ears, which she keeps hidden under her hat. However, upon moving to a new town and starting a new school, she discovers that keeping her secret from being found out will be a lot harder than she thought.

Do you have any favourite Canadian plays and/or which artists are currently inspiring you?

I am a fan of Brad Fraser, whom I had a chance to work with when I was a young artist, as well as Daniel MacIvor. We have many wonderful Deaf and disabled writers within Canada, and many voices that are too numerous to mention, but some favorites include Paul Power, author of Crippled, Adam Pottle, a Deaf novelist and playwright and whose play, The Black Drum will be published by Playwrights Canada Press, along with emerging Deaf Black playwright, Gaitre Persaud. I love the opportunity to share new voices and stories through my festival, SOUND OFF. Many of the stories that we present are often created specifically for the festival, so we are proud to be an incubator for new Deaf work.

Find out more about Deafy at Intrepid Theatre in Victoria BC here: https://intrepidtheatre.com/shows/deafy/

Learn more about SOUND OFF at www.soundofffestival.com.

Follow Chris on social media, @auriclus

Disclaimer: Playwrights Guild of Canada (“PGC”) is a national arts service mandated to engage and grow an active Canadian writing community. We promote Canadian plays around the world to advance the creative rights and interests of professional Canadian playwrights for the stage. The views of our members are their own. The opinions of PGC as an association remain neutral.



Playwrights Guild of Canada

Established in 1972, PGC is a registered national arts service association committed to advancing the creative rights and interests of Canadian playwrights.