Auditions for sign language interpreters?

by Courtney Petri

What if an audition seemed less like a trial and more like a dialogue?  The typical audition experience can be somewhat traumatizing.  Blinded by lights, performing, you catch glimpses of a stoic jury out there, scrutinizing your efforts.  Upon exiting, you are informed that judgment will be passed shortly.  The showcase that took place at Boston University on September 20th,  hosted by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services at BU was of another variety.  It was still an audition process, still endeavoring to match high-caliber performers in appropriate roles.  There were certainly still nerves all around.  However, the atmosphere was more open, more community-oriented, more…Deaf.

Visual Communications Clearinghouse at VSA Mass, Boston University (BU) School of Theatre and BU Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services are collaborating to increase the amount of qualified interpreters who work in performing arts settings. Accessibility is needed both in front of and behind the curtain as Deaf and Hard of Hearing artists make contributions to the Arts as professionals as well as patrons of the theatre. The relationship with VSA Massachusetts** and Stagesource – as a clearinghouse, professional advocate and informational resource for professionals who work in the arts – is an invaluable addition to this effort. This showcase is the first of a collaborative series of trainings and professional gatherings for interested individuals and organizations.

The people showcasing their skills were sign language interpreters for the performing arts.  The panel was made of up of a number Deaf ASL coaches who work closely with performing artists, directors, and interpreters, to make a wide variety of shows accessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.  Such a showcase enlarges the pool of interpreters in the performing arts sector, to provide even greater accessibility, and more optimized matching; if there are more people available, there is a better opportunity to discover the optimal grouping of interpreter, coach, and play.

An American Sign Language (ASL) coach assists the interpreters to accurately represent both the meaning and emotion behind each performance.  ASL coaches are skilled in ASL grammatical structure and balance authenticity of the characters on stage with ASL idioms, phrases, and vernacular.

The showcasing process reflected Deaf Culture in a practical sense, such as ensuring that not only the performer, but also the panel, was well-lit for visual communication purposes.  More importantly, the cultural aspects showed up in process itself.  When the interpreter had presented their prepared song, set to music, in American Sign Language, and signed a cold reading of an excerpt from a Shakespeare play, the dialogue began.  It is an interview, to be sure, but a back-and-forth with feedback is rare enough in traditional auditions!

The coaches, of course, are interested in the language skills of the interpreter.  If the work were a living being, the language and the interpreting process would be the mind.  Communication, enjoyment, and entertainment cannot happen without it.  The coaches are also interested in availability.  In our living being, that would be the body; even if the mind is brilliant, if the body is not present, the work cannot happen.  But the coaches are also interested in attitude – the heart, and that is another thing that sets it apart.

Perhaps, as a poor performing artist myself, I have a poor view of the “traditional” audition.  But there was something about this Performing Arts Showcase that humanized the process.  Watching the nervous faces of the lineup before they entered the room, and seeing the relieved glow as they exited, I believe that something special, collaborative, and cultural was happening, and I hope that it continues.

*See 2010-2011 season for Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston University BCAP and Broadway Across America-Boston

**Visual Communication Clearinghouse at VSA Massachusetts: Communication Access to the Arts and Culture.

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  1. #1 by Jared on April 14, 2011 - 12:25 pm

    For those who use sign language as their primary method of communication, having a professional American sign language interpreter is critical to ensure that these individuals have full and equal access to employment, health care, government services and public events.

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