Updated: Aug 25

MICHELLE MARY SCHAEFER exudes talent, charisma and ambition ~ she is a highly accomplished actor on stage and screen, a screen and play writer, director and master of ASL (American Sign Language). Michelle challenges us to "listen with your eyes", as she takes us on her profoundly moving life journey, from overcoming bullying to her theatrical performance portraying Sarah Norman in "Children of a Lesser God" and her impactful "REAL the tiny film webseries."

Michelle Mary Schaefer as Hannah in Sarah Treem's When We Were Young and Unafraid

Tell us about when you first discovered your love of acting?

As a kid, full of imagination, I discovered that I wanted to be an actor after watching the film, Children of a Lesser God which stars Marlee Matlin. During the film, I realized that Marlee was Deaf, so am I, I told my parents that I wanted to be an actor just like her! Marlee inspired me, and become my role model while growing up in a world of isolation and confusion. My dreams and passions kept me alive and going. During that time at the age of four, I was a dancer which I later quit for soccer. My first stage play was The Song of Hiawatha at the age of 11 or 12 at a community theatre in Baltimore, Maryland.

What was life like for you growing up and at what age did you understand you “happened to be deaf?”

This is a very deep and intimate question which can end up being a book, and/or a film! Growing up it was full of isolation and confusion. I struggled with my identities, and ability to communicate. I was embarrassed to be myself, as I was constantly being bullied by both the Deaf and Hearing children, which made me feel trapped and ashamed. There are so many things I asked myself about my childhood, and even how the heck did I survive? The answer is ART, THEATRE, FILMS, WRITING, BEING CREATIVE and my IMAGINATION saved me.

Which female actor has inspired you the most and why?

Marlee Matlin inspired me the most as an actor, because if it wasn’t for her doing the film, Children of a Lesser God, or even paving the way in the industry, I am not sure if I would have discovered my desire and passion as an actor, writer, and a filmmaker or even answering your questions.

Michelle Mary Schaefer as Sarah in Children of a Lesser God

As an actor you have taken on many roles, both on stage and screen, which role have you enjoyed playing the most and which role was the hardest and why?

Every role I have portrayed onstage and onscreen have all impacted me personally in their own individual ways. I had the pleasure and honor to be the first Deaf female actor in history who has played both Sarah Norman in Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God and Nina Raine’s Billy in Tribes numerous of times. I truly enjoyed playing Hannah in Sarah Treem’s play, When We Were Young and Unafraid in Austin, Texas, as the character, the play, the cast, crew, producers, and director were beyond amazing, so passionate about a story that matters. Every role has its challenge, as I would say carrying on the role of Alfa in the US Premiere play, Peeling by Kaite O’Reilly was challenging due to it’s British Accent, it’s the story/writings which made it’s huge difference as it shook Seattle. Like, I said every role/production has its challenge. The most challenging is translating Shakespeare to English and to ASL non-stop, it makes my mind spin! I loved the result when I played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Howie Seago and Teresa Thuman in Seattle, and a scene of Romeo and Juliet, as Juliet at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Gala, under the direction of LeeAnet Noble and Alan Paul.

Michelle Mary Schaefer as Billy in Nina Raine's Tribes

Can you explain to us how much more work it is preparing for a role when you have to act, talk, lip-read and sign?

As an actor who happens to be Deaf, I always invest 200% of myself in a role. Every production, depending on the role, I am always working extremely hard. When I have to “speak” I find myself constantly practicing my speech, projecting my voices, ensure I don’t “drop” certain constants or vowels. I literally cannot hear myself speak at all as I am profoundly Deaf. It leads me having to “trust” myself and the director and let go, bring the characters out in authentic ways. Now, when it comes to signing, ASL (American Sign Language), there is a translation process which happens, where we have to translate from English to ASL. I am always finding myself playing around with ways to sign a line, and locking down on what fits and feels natural. Unfortunately, people have said to me “How can you be an actor if you are Deaf, you can’t hear.” Yes, I can’t hear but I CAN act, I just have to “memorize” their lines, read lips, listen/train my brain to hear a certain word as a cue, and watch for visual cues such as movements or whatever. All that makes my career so magical.

Do you feel there has been progress made for more roles that portray characters who are deaf/hard of hearing and are there any shows/films that are inclusive that you have particularly enjoyed?

Yes, there has been a huge progress within the industry being more inclusive especially with characters that are Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing. However, we truly need more films/TV written by those who are Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing, like me, who have the ability to share/express their story. I have written several films, a web series, and I'm working re-writing a TV Series.

I enjoyed Marlee Matlin (Jodi) and Deanne Bray (Amy) in The L Word. I want to be on The L Word: Generation Q as I’m ready and many have asked me when they will see me on the show! I loved the late Phyllis Frelich in Love is Never Silence. The talented, Howie Seago and Emmauelle Laborit in Beyond Silence.

We REALLY love REAL, your tiny film web series and how you tackle the complexities of love and deafness with such humor, what gave you the idea for it and what was the hardest part about making it?

Thank you, as I am glad you both loved REAL. I had no idea how much of an impact REAL would have on the viewers. It all began when Maria Forsythe (director/producer/editor) and I met during a project as we knew we wanted to work together again to tell meaningful story. I took one of my old scripts, re-wrote it, allowing my fingers do the typing as I listen to my heart while creating REAL.

The cast and crew were basically blown away with pride and emotions by the reactions from everyone, as they crave for more stories like REAL. People are constantly asking us when is the next episode, which we will resume filming after the pandemic. Waiting to be able to film safely is the hardest part of REAL, all of us have such passion for this project and we cannot wait to get filming again!

All Girl Cast and Crew of REAL tiny film webseries

You have an all-female cast and crew, tell us about them and how was it working together?

Working with an all-female cast and crew truly empowers each of us and, because of our passions, REAL happened. All of us are PROUD of this project. Maria and I have been friends since working on a past project. We keep supporting each other bloom as filmmakers. Then, I met the lovely talented, Tatiana Roberts who made a perfect Emma. Rajinee Buguing and Brittany Marsh make sure sounds are smooth. Production Design is by Cassady Spruiell, she gave me several olives to choose from for my character to eat (you MUST watch REAL to get the full appreciation for the olive's). Prior REAL, I hated Olives but I was willing to eat them just for the film and at the end, ohhh Olive Juice! (winks) I cannot wait to see, work and hug them again. I miss them all terribly but we do keep in touch.



What do you hope people will appreciate from watching REAL and what are your hopes for the web series in the future?

I hope that the audience will appreciate its meaningful human stories, that navigate through Lauren’s life, relationships and connection in a world of complex communication. Allow them to feel and connect with the characters. We look forward to resume filming after the pandemic, do some fundraising to complete Season One, submit to Film Festivals as well as share more episodes with all of you.

We have often seen the backlash over roles portraying LGBTQ characters being played by straight actors, how do you feel about roles portraying someone deaf/hard of hearing being played by someone with hearing?

It is not authentic, especially when it comes to a hearing person taking on roles that are specifically written for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. It has happened way too often within the film and theatre world, as we are always constantly educating the industry about its authenticity and sharing that there are many talented actors who are perfect for the role. Also, it’s like a hearing actor playing Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God, which is a huge disrespect to Mark Medo