Let’s see, I haven’t gotten disability advocates angry at me in a while. It might be time.
Jonathan Turley posted the video above in a blog post titled “You Decide: Which Is The Greater Draw – The Singer Or The Signer?” The title, and especially the video, reminded me of a live entertainment phenomenon that has annoyed me for decades. I had forgotten about it, because producers learned long ago that I wouldn’t tolerate it in shows I was involved in. The ethics issue: showboating sign language interpreters for deaf audience members.
I have no objection to having signers at special performances of live stage presentations, as long as those signers understand their purpose and obligation. Their purpose is to communicate the words to hearing-impaired audience members. Their obligation is to do so as unobtrusively as possible, so as not to draw focus from the performance itself, or interfere with the integrity of the production.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of the sign language interpreters who specialize in signing plays and operas don’t see their job this way. They think they are supposed to be as flamboyant–that is, obtrusive–and demonstrative as possible. Well, they’re not going to do that in one of my shows.
I’m not going to work over a grueling six week rehearsal schedule to perfect audience focus, the arc of the show, the lighting, sound, stage picture and all the other artistic elements that need to be coordinated to fully realize a work of live performance art only to have someone show up who I have never seen before and improvise his or her own act in competition with the performance on stage. If I thought it would enhance “A Steetcar Named Desire” or “The Music Man” to have Marcel Marceau or Red Skelton jumping around and waving their arms next to the performers, I would have staged the shows that way. Continue reading