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Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci: When good things happen to good people

Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci

by Stephen Sachs

Theirs is a unique relationship unlike any I have witnessed in my thirty-five years of creating theater.

They have been paired for decades. They have worked, travelled, and partied together, side by side, for so long they seem to share the same mind while, at the same time, remaining two distinct personalities. Like brothers, they love each other and sometimes piss each other off. Both are married, have families. Now, after logging in countless years of career ups and downs, together and individually, they each are bathing in a dizzying moment of public acclaim and professional success. It makes my heart glad.

Troy Kotsur is an extraordinary actor who happens to be Deaf. Paul Raci is hearing, a child of Deaf parents, fluent in American Sign Language, and a powerful veteran performer. For years, they have been linked on stage – an actor who signs and an actor who speaks – creating mesmerizing blends of sign language and voice on stage, dazzling deaf and hearing audiences in Los Angeles and in regional theaters across the country. I have known and loved both for a long time. We have created new plays together at the Fountain Theatre. My soul sings to now see them bask in the warmth of a bright day in the sun, each in his own light.       

Troy co-stars in “CODA,” a touching coming-of-age dramedy about a young girl in conflict with her Deaf parents and brother as she attempts to pursue singing. In January, it received top honors at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It ignited a bidding war, setting a record when the worldwide distribution rights were picked up by Apple Studios for $25 million — the highest sum ever for a film premiering at Sundance.

Paul has a supporting role in the film “Sound of Metal.” The movie – and Paul’s performance –has been gobbling up accolades and awards since its release. The film has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and, in a life-changing nod to Paul’s work, Best Supporting Actor.

It fills me with joy that each are enjoying a moment of triumph at the same time. And it makes sense. When they played brothers on stage in the world premiere of my play “Cyrano,” they were called upon to become the same person. In this Deaf spin on the classic romantic story, Paul portrayed Chris, the hearing sibling who spoke and ASL-interpreted for his lovelorn Deaf brother Cyrano (Troy). Hands and voice became one. After our acclaimed run at the Fountain, we travelled to New York Theatre Workshop for a special performance. We then brought the play to Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.

Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci in “Cyrano” at the Fountain Theatre

Troy and Paul later co-starred in a Deaf West production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” that opened in Los Angeles and then toured other cities.  

The relationship between a Deaf actor and their hearing counterpart who “voices” for them on stage is tricky and delicate. It demands respect on both sides, with the understanding that it is the Deaf actor who dominates, who must lead the way. The “voice actor” partners with the Deaf actor to help make the performance accessible to hearing audiences – but the focus must be on the Deaf actor’s performance. This kind of unique inter-dependence between artists requires that each much surrender a degree of their autonomy. That can be hard. All kinds of feelings come up. A trust and respect must develop between them. It also demands a level of skill that the average person cannot comprehend.

Paul and Troy are men with big hearts, strong opinions, and powerful personalities. They are both blessed with their own unique skills. Most valued by me, they share a vital trait: the capacity to love.  They are each kind and compassionate men and longtime actors, deeply talented, who have paid their dues.

In this year following a long period of despair, the recent triumphs of Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci are a spiritual shot in the arm. There is reason to rejoice. Every once in a while, the good guys come out on top.  

Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.