Deng Deng is preparing for the opening of the provocative and entertaining The Pass by John Donnelly at the Seymour Centre as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. He is happy to be at work again as the closure of theatres owing to Covid 19 has been the longest time Deng Deng has been without theatrical employment.
He first became interested in acting while at high school. After taking performance as an elective he discovered that he had a passion for acting. He had always liked re-enacting roles he had seen in films and on the television shows he’d grown up watching, and taking a class made him realise that performance was his vocation. When later Deng Deng speaks of the value of theatre – its “magic” and its unrivalled capacity to “be in the moment” – his love of his profession is palpable.
During isolation Deng Deng spent his time writing, which he found harder than he expected. He was greatly inspired by Tolkien and the imaginative world Tolkien created in The Lord of the Rings and is working on building his own imaginative world. With more than one string to his bow, Deng Deng also pursued his interest in photography.
However, both interests will go on hold while Deng Deng plays the role of Nigerian Ade alongside Ben Chapple’s Jason, both caught up in the demands of the world of elite sport with its still toxic codes of masculinity and racism. Despite all the talk of inclusiveness, Deng Deng emphasises that gay individuals still suffer anguish in coming out and quotes from a letter written by a soccer player outlining his struggle.
While the player did eventually receive support, the deep anxiety and fear of how other people – his family, his teammates, the fans, and the media – would respond was a paralysing burden. Should a player continue to pass as straight, as Jason does, his performative manliness is ultimately always dependent upon others to collude or be coerced and upon Jason himself to deny that moment with Ade when the mask slipped.
In addition there is the ever-present problem of racism, experienced by Ade as a black man. Australians are only too well aware of how displays of prejudice continue to undermine the “clean” image the management of the elite sporting world wants to project. Image making is central to The Pass, and the very hot topic of the moment. The promotional card suggests it has other more physical attractions as well.
Speaking with Deng Deng – who “a long time ago” played soccer for Lidcombe and Granville and is now an enthusiastic Manchester United supporter – his commitment to and understanding of the issues and concerns of The Pass make it must-see theatre.
The Pass is at the Seymour Centre until March 6.