Jeff Campagna was recently cast in the Matthew's Playhouse production of "Treasure Island." Campagna is playing Capt. Smollet, alongside his 8-year-old son Jackson, who plays the pirate Pew. But it's not just Campagna's live performance abilities that set him apart from the cast. He's also profoundly deaf. Because his hearing loss is due to nerve damage, hearing aids aren't helpful. After considering a cochlear implant for some time, Campagna had the surgery and never looked back.
Q. How did you get into acting?
I am a fan of theater and started performing on stage with a small group of deaf/ hard-of-hearing actors and sign-language students at East Carolina University. Many of our skits featured satirical portrayals of communication mishaps that are frequent in social interactions between people with hearing loss and people who do not have hearing loss.
Q. You previously worked in the theater. What was your role, and did you ever envision yourself in a production?
A little more than 10 years ago, I was creative director for the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center's Marketing Services Organization. I was profoundly deaf and depended on interpreters and support from my colleagues. In 1999, I auditioned for a role in Actor's Theatre's HandiAble Company production of "My Friend, the Fox." As the sole deaf actor, clever visual cues were devised to assist me in my stage entrances and audio cues. A speech pathologist taught me the vocal mechanics of speaking loudly and clearly.
Q. What is it like to be in a production with your son?
I cannot honestly answer this without getting watery-eyed, but you can imagine the sense of pride and joy I get to share this opportunity with Jackson. I am truly fond of both of my sons and just beam with immense pride as I watch them perform.
Q. What is it like performing with a hearing loss?
Thanks to my cochlear implant, I can obtain audio cues and gauge audience reaction now. The only real challenges are certain words that are difficult to enunciate.
Q. What's the best thing about playing Capt. Smollett?
The Captain is a tightwad individual that has nary a smile. I certainly enjoy the opportunity to run a ship, shout commands and engage in a sword fight. I am just a big kid on that stage.