The Deaf must now be allowed to interpret all live theatrical stage performances for members of their own community. For too long, Hearing interpreters have taken over the role of live theatrical interpretation when there is no such need for that facilitation today.
If you have ever witnessed an all-Deaf interpretation of a theatrical performance, you won’t ever want to watch a Hearing person again. Hearing interpreters tend to rely too much on their ears and not their hands. They sign word-for-word English and many times they are unrehearsed. They show up to a performance and sign as if they’re interpreting a staff meeting instead of matching a rehearsed and precise performance.
If there is some preparation time, the Hearing interpreters may attend a few performances of the show to get the feel of the production and sometimes they even invite a “Deaf Advisor” to also watch the show and give them feedback on their signed interpretation.
That functional dyad must be reversed. The Deaf must be given the script, and the CD — if the show is a musical — so they can study the text and songs as they wish before attending practice performances. When the Deaf Interpreters visit the live performance to help them decide how to sign the emotion and action in pure American Sign Language — and not PSE (Pidgin Signed English) — it will all seamlessly work for them just as it does for the Hearing. There should be a “Hearing Advisor” who can help the Deaf with unfamiliar colloquial phrases or with other language needs and auditory nuances that may being missed in interpretation.
The Deaf can interpret a live theatrical performance because it is set in stone. The script does not change. The task is one of memorization and not hearing the actors speak. The actors and crew are rehearsed and ready. In that predictability of outcome is precisely where the Deaf make such a big difference in interpretation. Deaf Interpreters can focus on the germinal influences of linguistic structure and artistic intention and translate it all visually for a Deaf audience.
Hearing interpreters have no real advantage when interpreting a rehearsed live stage performance, and that is why the higher experience must now be given back to Deaf Interpreters and their Deaf audiences — so together they can then create a permanent presence in front of the proscenium — as they commune in the essence of a shared disability and in a mutual understanding gained through interpreted performances primed to entice pity and terror of their own.