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'Walking Dead' star Angel Theory on navigating acting while hard of hearing

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When most people hear the term "code-switching," they think of what happens when a person of color changes their speech patterns or word choice depending on the audience. For choreographer, dancer and actress Angel Theory, who has starred in AMC's "The Walking Dead" and Facebook Watch's "Kinderfänger," code-switching extends to straddling the worlds of the hearing and the hard of hearing.

Theory began losing her hearing around the age of 14, after a car crash. Now 20, she mastered navigating multiple worlds at once.

Theory sat down via Zoom to discuss her career.

Q: I understand that you started experiencing hearing loss later in life. What happened, and were you worried initially that you weren't going to be able to continue acting?

A: Yes, I had a car accident, two car accidents, that eventually got my hearing loss to decrease progressively. It started in one ear and then later on in the other ear. ... However, I wasn't really focused on it affecting me in my acting career because I wasn't really acting at that time. I was more focused on it affecting me as a dancer and as a choreographer. But then eventually I had to make an adjustment.

Q: Do you feel like you're still able to enjoy it?

A: I still enjoy it. I think that the first year and second year, it was very hard for me because I was focused on trying to understand the music that I would listen to, and I'm one of those people who doesn't want to miss a beat at all. However, I do have music experience and know how to sight read. So I feel the music first while listening with my hearing aids, and then, just to be sure that I'm getting every note possible, I try to print it out and read the music as well. That way, no matter what, I'm always on beat. I feel like, if anything, it's made me pay way more attention to the music and get into it and feel it more. So yeah, it's been a learning experience, but in the best way.

Q: Do the vibrations help you a lot in terms of feeling the beat?

A: Oh, yeah, definitely. Especially on a stage or on certain floors where I can't feel it, there are different technologies that you can use. I have sneakers that allow you to feel the vibrations. You connect it with your music, and you can feel everything through your feet. And there's a vest that you can wear. However, sometimes I don't want to have to be dependent on those accessories for dance. It's mainly me just trying to focus on getting to understand the music, just like how I know my ABCs. So that's the basics of how I'm able become the music instead of trying to dance with it.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you've had to deal with being hard of hearing and acting?

A: In my first year acting, I was still trying to navigate through my everyday life and the challenges that come with that. So having to figure it out on set was a bit different for me. I was alone, away from my family, working in a different area and with a whole bunch of amazing other actors and actresses. However, I have another co-star who plays my sister on the show ("The Walking Dead") who is deaf. So she was very, very helpful in my transition from being hearing to hard of hearing. It's been a really, like, slow progression. But now there aren't that many challenges, really. Everybody's really open to understanding what my needs are and making things accessible for me in a way where I can still be comfortable and do my job to the best of my ability.

Q: You mentioned your choreography earlier. How have you incorporated your choreography experience into your acting?

A: I feel like, being a dancer, it allows me to stay very agile and very active, and it keeps me in shape. So when we ... do stunt work, and running scenes and kill scenes, I'm always pumped and ready for it. I'm never tired. I want to keep going and do more. Also, dancing is an expression of body language, and even if we all don't speak the same language, dance is the one language that we all understand. So I allow that to be incorporated within my body movement. Even if it's as simple as a shrug, there are different ways to show your emotions.

Q: Between "The Walking Dead" and your new show, "Kinderfänger," you've done two horror series now. Is that a genre that really appeals to you?

A: Yeah, I love horror. I like making people feel something while they're watching. Watching horror movies, you can feel sad, you can feel scared — all the emotions are usually found in horror. And it's fast-paced in a really fun way. I think a lot of the hearing community feels that it's scarier when someone that is hard of hearing or deaf is put into those scary situations.


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