Sign Language Interpreter Ethics

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.

Signing a show for deaf audience members is not license to steal focus and take over the evening, and yet that is what a majority of interpreters do, in part because they get praise for it. “Oh,” I hear people say, “you were as much fun to watch as the show!”  Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t hire clown acts, magicians and jugglers to go on simultaneously with shows I direct, no matter how entertaining they are by themselves. That style of signing is narcissistic, irresponsible, and disrespectful to every artist from the playwright to the actors and the designers.

I understand that flamboyant, creative signing is more interesting to watch for deaf audience members. However, if that extra enjoyment for two or three or twenty hearing-impaired patrons is purchased at the cost of a warped performance experience for the rest of the hearing audience and a distortion of the production itself, it cannot be justified.

The last time the prospect of a signed show was raised in a show I directed, I insisted that the signer audition his technique for me, and sign a contract promising to keep extraneous gesticulating, movements and facial expressions to a minimum, or risk forfeiting the fee.

He wouldn’t hear of it, and his protests fell on deaf ears.

Mine.

__________________
Spark: Res Ipsa Loquitur

67 thoughts on “Sign Language Interpreter Ethics

  1. People who compliment the interpreter after a show must not understand the purpose of his presence either. I would consider it a distraction.

    In fact, a lot of people don’t understand the purpose of a deaf interpreter. My sister is an interpreter in a public school. Her job is only to communicate to the student what the teacher is saying, not teach the child. Sometimes, the child doesn’t understand what the teacher means and will ask for clarification. On occasion, the teacher will ask my sister to explain it to the student instead. She often has to remind the teacher that she cannot reinterpret what the teacher is saying – or teach the student – only translate into sign language what the teacher is saying. That’s it.

  2. It isn’t helped that sign language is sometimes treated as a “gimmick” rather than a tool of communication, i.e. having singing and signing characters on children’s shows or having a deaf Miss America (nothing against Heather Whitestone as a person, just against using her as a prop) sign the National Anthem or a Sandi Patti song at high-profile events.

    • Great point. Marlee Matlin is used like that too much. The Seinfeld episode was legit, but in a lot of dramas she’s there to look cool signing, and the fact is that she speaks well. Children of a Lesser God chic.

  3. They should hire Garrett Morris. He is very talented:

    https://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A0LEVr4GXAdV5oMAFt8nnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTB0N25ndmVnBHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkA1lIUzAwNF8x?p=garrett+morris+hearing+impaired&tnr=21&vid=F3918596DEF19898262AF3918596DEF19898262A&l=32&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts3.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DUN.608007347726320262%26pid%3D15.1&sigi=11rkklvuq&rurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DbutZyxI-PRs&sigr=11bk5g5n9&tt=b&tit=Franco+is+still+dead…but+he%26%2339%3Bs+feeling+better+each+day….&sigt=11vm3tvhu&back=https%3A%2F%2Fsearch.yahoo.com%2Fyhs%2Fsearch%3Fp%3Dgarrett%2Bmorris%2Bhearing%2Bimpaired%26ei%3DUTF-8%26hsimp%3Dyhs-001%26hspart%3Dmozilla&sigb=13bc88gqa&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-001

    jvb

  4. That guy at the Mandela memorial will always stand out in this sort of thing. He not only stole the show, he got away with utter gibberish besides. Still, most of what the speakers were saying was little better. At least HE was entertaining. I’ll rank him nearly on the Baghdad Bob level in that category.

  5. It is like a sports match, if the umpires, referees and judges are too obtrusive then it takes away from the performances of the athletes.

  6. While the video might understandably remind you of poor practice, I think it is ultimately an example of a good practice. The interpreter is standing in front of one of the video screens, rather than the performance itself, and his dancing is probably helping communicate the rhythm of the performance. If the guy were to merely stand there and repeat the lyrics, they might just as well used subtitles.

    I had heard a story about a comedy show, where the interpreter dutifully reproduced the show (which was already vulgar in nature). The comedian noticed her, and started coming up with extra bits just to see how they would be interpreted. The guest for who she was hired was not happy, but the interpreter explained to a reporter who tracked her down that it was her job to translate the experience everyone was having for the benefit of the entire audience. She was not the client of the individual audience member, and had a duty to not tailor the performance to the preference of that that customer.

    With the comedy show’s interpreter, she explained there are different “registers” in sign language that can be used in various settings. There are formal, familiar, and vulgar ways to express concepts, and the art of translating is the dynamic selection of which set of gestures best communicates the intent of the speaker or performer. With the comedy show, she largely used the vulgar, most graphic set of gestures, because these most closely represented the comedian’s act. As the comedian noticed and actively engaged, she used the most exaggerated expression that could still be reasonably (read?) by the deaf audience.

    With a live performance of theater, or even at a concert, I think the only reasonable way to include a sign language interpreter would be to have her rehearse with the rest of the cast. Vocal expression is such an important part of such live event, that to recreate it on the fly with gestures denies the deaf audience a huge part of the experience; the interpreter is left choosing among gestures that could either over or under communicate what is happening, just as an unrehearsed actor might over emphasize a subtle point, or yell when a whisper is called for. If included at the last minute, without the careful direction the rest of the cast received, signing results are guaranteed to be undesirable, even with a good faith effort to use an appropriate register, to faithfully reproduce the style and rhythm of the act, and not supplant it with inappropriately exaggerated gestures. Subjecting the interpreter to audition, just as the rest of the cast, is the way to go!

    The arts are a difficult thing to make accessible to the disabled. There needs to be a balance between classic expression and inclusion. For instance, hundreds of monumental buildings are lost on the disabled, because careless retrofits route the mobility impaired through service entrances. Modern construction is required now to provide accessibility; this necessarily limits the use of some classic architectural elements (fewer monumental entrance staircases used in favor of grade-level entrances, for instance). Good art, however, makes use of the palate provided.

    With stage performances, a huge part is inherently lost on those who cannot hear; there is no requirement that performances be ceased. There is, however, a legal obligation to provide interpreters; a good artist ought to plan ahead and work with the interpreter to provide a quality artistic experience for all involved.

    • Cowabunga.

      1. they might just as well used subtitles.
      Exactly. And that’s what they should do.

      2. The guest for who she was hired was not happy, but the interpreter explained to a reporter who tracked her down that it was her job to translate the experience everyone was having for the benefit of the entire audience.

      No such duty. To the contrary, the duty is to be as invisible as possible, and not to intrude on (hijack) the director’s vision.

      3. I think the only reasonable way to include a sign language interpreter would be to have her rehearse with the rest of the cast.

      Nothing reasonable about that at all, and nobody who has tried to prepare a complex professional stage project could suggest such a thing. An show is not skewed for any specific audience member’s ability to understand or perceive it: the author’s intent and the work itself has priority. The duty of a director who did not independently agree that a deaf signing element was a legitimate and enriching aspect of his vision for the work itself would be obligated to refuse such a shotgun wedding.

      4. There needs to be a balance between classic expression and inclusion.

      What? There certainly does not, nor should there b.. There is no right or reason for those with disabilities to be relieved of every inconvenience or loss occasioned by their misfortune to the disadvantage and reduction in the enjoyment of the arts by the vast, vast majority. Should the blind have the visual aspects of a stage show or film shouted to them to the diturbance and irritation of the sighted audience? Come on.

      5. There is, however, a legal obligation to provide interpreters.

      No, there isn’t: it’s a First Amendment violation. If the artist decides its an interference with his or her art, the government can’t do a thing about it. Accommodating the deaf is a choice, and when it interferes with what the rest of the audience can experience, its a choice a serious artist with the proper priorities has a duty to reject.

      • I wonder how many of the points being fleshed out in your post and in the subsequent commentary is completely applicable to the post a week ago about the transgender and the changing room discussion…

          • Of course it is even more nuanced than that…inside of the calculation of “smoothing difficult waters” is another calculation of what exactly is a life necessity available to *pretty much everyone* that for a tiny minority it is not available.

            In this case, hearing. In the other case, ability to take care of one’s private matters in a private setting…

            Interestingly enough, public restrooms and locker rooms have violated privacy since their inclusion in facilities… I think, all things being equal, each individual would prefer to change or urinate in a completely private setting. But for cost effectiveness’ sake we’ve told men to suck it up and deal with other men and we’ve told women to suck it up and deal with other women as a compromise.

      • I do appreciate the feedback, as it provides me an opportunity to better organize my muddled thoughts. In my responses here, I largely agree with your position, that interpreters should be as obstructiveness as possible, and that for them to deliberately “steal the show” is irresponsible. I view the examples of the interpreter’s showboating, however, as the product of unclear expectations and thoughtless attempts at “accommodating” a minority portion of the audience.

        I have also studied accessibility law, and understand that the times there is a legal obligation for accommodation are limited. In the case of theater, in particular, the legal obligation largely stops at ensuring there is reasonable ability to enter the seating area; any further enjoyment or lack there of is the responsibility of the customer. Even then, the obligation is narrow; an undo burden in renovating an existing historic theater, for instance, could dispense the obligation (for private venues without any public aid, the obligation may not exist at all).

        However, the point that I wished to communicate is that thoughtful accommodation often benefits more than just the target audience. Amenities such as ramps or elevators, while essential to allowing wheelchair bound patron mere access to the building, may also aid hundred of other patrons who would never ask for such accommodation. Thoughtless additions might ruin the architectural integrity of the theater, and “inconvenience” the majority of the audience. Careful and seamless additions, however, could greatly improve the experience for everybody.
        Applying this principle to sign language interpreters, I believe an interpreter is to be incorporated into the performance, as many resources as can reasonably be used should be used to give him the best opportunity to translate the material. For a stage performance, this may mean letting him sit in during rehearsals; the director might even observe to ensure that he does not over do it. The director need not give anywhere near the same level of attention that he gives the rest of the cast, but give some feedback and set some expectations.

        The interpreter might only be begrudgingly hired at the request of a single patron; however there may be other guests in the theater would never have made such a request that would also benefit. By setting clear expectations, the rest of the audience also benefits by not being distracted by an unplanned sideshow. The interpreter is ultimately an employee of the venue or production company; failure to meet expectations should be grounds for dismissal. It is a risk to include an interpreter, just as hiring any employee or contractor. This risk is mitigated by thoughtfully discussing expectations and screening the techniques to be used.
        Without setting expectations and given feedback, interpreters get their feedback from the public at large. If interpreters get “praise” for exaggerated performances, and employers are silent, they will assume the employer likes the positive press and continue. It is the production companies duty to ensure a seamless experience; if they do not exercise due diligence in hiring interpreters, they bear responsibility for any undesirable effects.

        Posts such as this one are essential, as they make clear unspoken assumptions industry-wide that clue in clueless interpreters that such showboating is not appreciated. It is perfectly reasonable to not want to bother when there are so many examples of careless interpreters earning praise; staying silent however does not solve the problem. The “balance between classic expression and inclusion” I spoke of was not an obligation to limit artistic expression to forms that appeal to the disabled, but to simply consider their needs and what possible reasonable steps could be taken to facilitate their enjoyment.

        Perhaps interpreters must meet the industry halfway and tone down their default acts to encourage producers and directors to consider adding them. If exaggerated expressions are discouraging their use, interpreters are harming their target audience. Production companies, by not speaking up, while not acting unethically, also limit the opportunities for the disabled to enjoy their work because they do encourage the improvements. It would be virtuous, if not obligatory, for production companies to take steps to plan for the inclusion of patrons with certain impairments, and to clearly express their needs and expectations for contractors in implementing this plan.

        Not planning has undesirable effects for society at large, whether it be less inclusion in the performance arts for the disabled, or atrocious performances made in the name of inclusion.

        • “If interpreters get “praise” for exaggerated performances, and employers are silent, they will assume the employer likes the positive press and continue. It is the production companies duty to ensure a seamless experience; if they do not exercise due diligence in hiring interpreters, they bear responsibility for any undesirable effects.”

          This is the crux of the problem. Theaters, however, like other establishments are loathe to require those with disabilities and those assisting them to hew to any standard of reasonableness, for fear of criticism. The disabled, in turn, feel empowered to enjoy having the upper hand for a change, and overplay it.

          There was a famous incident years ago in DC in which a small, prominent professional theater was going to be patronized by group from a large rest home. The group not only arrived well after the show—“Amadeus”— had begun, but the staff for the group bullied the young theater staff into allowing the group to enter the theater mid-scene, so they wouldn’t miss any more of the plot. The theater’s founder and show’s director was playing Salieri, and was in the midst of a crucial monologue when the mood was shattered by a group of seniors in walker, wheelchairs—-one a with mobile drip unit!–many of them talking—-entered the theater excruciatingly slowly, breaking the mood, making the show impossible to watch for the rest of the patrons. The actor/impresario gave up, called for the lights, and suspended the show, apologizing to the audience from the stage. After about 15 minutes of chaos, the show resumed. The group complained that its elderly had been “humiliated” and wrote to the Washington Post, and the theater also got flack from the other patrons, some of whom accused the theater of being insensitive. The founder made a policy that if those with disabilities were not in their seats by curtain time, they would not be admitted to the theater—and he was also criticized for that.

      • “No, there isn’t: it’s a First Amendment violation. If the artist decides its an interference with his or her art, the government can’t do a thing about it. Accommodating the deaf is a choice, and when it interferes with what the rest of the audience can experience, its a choice a serious artist with the proper priorities has a duty to reject.”

        A theater is open to the public, therefore, it is a legal obligation to provide American Sign Language Interpreters, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law states that public accommodations must “provide auxiliary aids and services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing when needed. Examples of auxiliary aids and services include qualified interpreters, note takers, and written materials. The type of auxiliary aid or service provided will depend on what is needed for a specific situation.”

        • Not a lawyer but needs to butt out of subjects he doesn’t know about. My theater had hearing enhancement radio devices; but they would only help those who had some hearing. The law does not apply to small businesses, for which hiring signers would be impossibly expensive. Nor could a theater be required to hire signers for every performance. We always had written materials. My broad was 90% lawyers, and missed nothing—and I’m one too.

        • I guarantee you that if a government tried to force theaters to use signers, theaters would bring this all the way to SCOTUS, and the government would lose, because the measure interferes with the art, ie “expression.” No government official lacking a death wish would try such a stunt.

  7. Damn I loved Das Boot. Those subtitles were awesome.

    I get that sign language has a certain accent or enunciation pattern that makes it more understandable to deaf people (the same way we might use changes of pitch or other aural tricks), but well, even the deaf people came for the show.

    • EVEN the deaf people? Wait one…other than being hearing-impaired, what else is wrong with us? Are we somehow sub-normal? EVEN, indeed. Just an FYI, ‘1776’ is one of my favorite musicals, but ONLY one. I have several. I also understand that no intentional slight was offered, but keep in mind that we are hard-of-hearing or deaf, not crazy or intellectually challenged.

      • I don’t think it’s discriminatory to point out that hearing impaired people are missing out on a large part of the experience, especially in a musical. “Even people who miss out on half the show can still appreciate the visuals” seems apt. If you have a hearing aid, or are still able to make out the music, then perhaps this doesn’t apply to you, but as the most obviously blatant example, do you think that a deaf person would get the same humor out of the final scene of “The Music Man” as the rest of the audience?

        • Nor do I, which is why I included the disclaimer that I was sure that no intentional slight was offered. I would expand that to include ‘discriminatory’, but would say that, since hearing is somewhat less important, in the sensorium, than sight, fully hearing people do not really understand what we who are hard-of-hearing and/or deaf are actually capable of. And, to answer your question, I couldn’t tell you. The last time I saw “The Music Man”, my hearing had not started to deteriorate, so I could probably supply the sound, most of it, from memory, and, hence, could and would, appreciate it. For those who are born deaf, possibly not so much.

        • Change that second ‘intended’ to discriminatory, since I have no idea what word I was originally looking for. Getting old is SUCH fun.

      • Thank you for understanding no slight was intended. I really hadn’t put the words together in my head the way they obviously came across.

        Although, since I have you online, so to speak, I was wondering if it was OK to ask a question. Specifically, what kind of mindset should I have in mind when I’m talking? I have a toddler with (mild) cerebral palsy, and I’m trying to calibrate what’s going to be the least grating way of addressing/describing what’s going on. I thought about blithely ignoring it, but that seems wrong, thought about being ubersensitive, but that seems even more wrong. On some level, I know there’s no way of winning, but I’d like to feel I at least tried to do it right. I understand I’m talking about an entirely different set of problems, but I was hoping there was some insight to be had.

        • As far as the understanding, no sweat. Believe it or not, there is actually a dichotomy between people born deaf (had no exposure to spoken language, thus symbolize and think somewhat differently than those of us who were born hearing) and those born hearing who have had the ability curtailed or lost. To answer your question, there is probably several ways to clearly do it wrong, such as being patronizing (I have read many of your comments and don’t think this is a danger for you) but I also think there is more than one way to do it right. I once had a friend who told me that “When you look at me, you see ME, not my chair. I should mention she had muscular dystrophy and was reliant on a motorized chair for mobility. She3 also had the most amazing sense of humor I have run across. I guess my best advice is to keep in mind the person, not the disability. The disability, and I prefer that word to handicap, does NOT define who the person is. At best, it will remove some skill sets, but most things do that in some way or another. I will never be Kareem-Abdul Jabar, nor will I ever be Caruso (can’t sing a lick), but if you need a new computer, I can build one for you. Used to be a pretty fair psychologist, as well. Your toddler, as he/she grows up, will find ways to figure out who he/she is and will become. Support those decisions to the extent that you can.

  8. Facial expression and body language are part of the language of American Sign Language. Interpreters are ethically bound to render the message faithfully. That means that if you sound excited, the interpreter must look excited. The same goes for other emotions and tone of voice. It’s not really about being “more interesting” but about being accurate.

  9. I would take this “ethics” person seriously if he/she seemed to know anything about the ethics that guide sign language interpreting. And, I suppose it would be helpful if the person understood anything about linguistics, sign language, Deaf culture, or audience response theory. This article is more about the individual than than the issue. In short, this person is no more an ethicist that is Donald Trump.

    • Danny, who knows about stuff but is apparently incapable of communicating it, has submitted the perfect jerkish comment. Behold all, lest you meet his fate!

      The issue is the performance and the production, and, as I pointed out, not the signer. If the signer’s ethics code permits the signer to disrupt the performance for hearing audiences and distract from the director’s staging, I don’t care what it says, it’s unethical. If it doesn’t, then my post is entirely consistent with it. As a professional director, I also couldn’t care less about “audience response theories,” since as a successful director, my theories work just fine in practice, in fact, spectacularly well. I don’t need no stinkin’ theories.

      This “ethics person” is Jack Marshall, you ass, and my name is all over the blog if you actually bothered to read the post with care, which I doubt.Your comment consisted of no substance, no argument, just an insult, innuendos and snark. If you actually had an argument to counter a word I wrote, I would assume you would have written it. Danny in fact knows zip.

      Get lost, you’re banned, and yes, this is yet another example of the arrogance and entitlement attitude that I have encountered often from the hearing impaired activist community.

      • Jack Marshall, there have been several comment that have tried to explain the interpreter is not “hijacking” the show, but that they are interpreting what is in the show. It is very difficult for an interpreter to do their job with the demands you put in place. Would you like to go to a performance that was in another language and have it monotoned to you as to “not disturb the performance”? That is what you are doing to the sign language interpreter.
        Or are you such a narcissist that you really don’t care about the Deaf or the audience at all and only are concerned with your precious performance?

        • My precious performance is a work of art, not a piece of ham. If it is going to be turned into something other than the way I created it, then I reject it, yes, and there is nothing narcissistic about it. If I am asked to direct a show for both hearing and deaf audiences so that each can enjoy and understand it, I can do that. But imposing another dramatic presence on the work I and the other artists have created without our input and control is simply sabotaging the art.

          • The way that you have input is by providing the interpreter with an opportunity to prep for the assignment with your guidance, either by having him or her come rehearse at least once with the cast or at the least providing an annotated script. If your production is anything but one actor standing on the stage and speaking in an inflectionless monologue, then the interpreter can’t present it as you created it without using body language and facial expression. In ASL, facial expression changes a statement into a question and means the difference in things like “I don’t like it that much” and “I detest that!”
            I don’t disagree that some interpreters perform while interpreting for productions. However, it appears that you are uneducated about the parameters and grammar of American Sign Language. I respectfully ask that you do at least some cursory reading on the topics before accusing the interpreters of doing your show a disservice. Some good places to start are lifeprint.com and Signingsavvy.com. For information on the interpreter code of professional conduct check the Registry of interpreters for the Deaf (RID.org)

            • I’ve WATCHED them do my show a disservice. As I said: let hearing audineces have informed consent that they will be seeing a different show: fine. Charge them less: Fine. Have a performance for deaf citizens only: also fine. No amount of preparation can change the realities of bodies, focus, motion and light.

  10. I’m disappointed, you nailed so many good things in the start, but you lost me when you expressed your biases agsinst Deaf folks’ language and preferences. You don’t prioritize experiences based on numbers. I hope I can find which theater you work at so your prejudices can be addressed to your patrons and peers. There are Deaf family members, friends, and lovers in the audience that deserve to the leave a show without feeling their language is sub-par. I get your concerns about unprofessional interpreters, but you derailed from that topic. You start with legit concerns but you end appearing as xenophobic and audist. I hope you take a deep look at the level ethnocentrism you expressed in this article.

    • Audist…give me a break. The works were written for a hearing, English speaking audience, and that audience has priority, that’s all. You wouldn’t argue that an English speaking audience should be subjected to watching Shakespeare with a simultaneous Polish translation droning on for five Polish speakers in the audience. This is no different.

      • You do realized you are lumping together two disparate communication systems as well as and the people who use them; spoken languages (and the folks who have access to them), with a group of people that communicate using a visual language (hence the use/need of an interpreter). Another mistake is to confuse and compare two communication modalities (spoken languages and signed languages) as if they offer the same experiences (of course no one would suggest a simultaneous Polish translation is equivalent here).

        Again, if you are taking about ill practices of interpreters and the impacts they have on the show and patrons, you have a solid conversation to explore. But you don’t. I’m calling out you prioritizing experiences, now you claim it can be done based on who the work was originally intended for, a bit outdated defense in our multi-lingual/multi-cultural lives and seems to be an ethnocentric gatekeeping mindset to keep out differing ways of experiencing our world (even theater). I would argue that most playwrights would not want their pieces to be exclusive, restricted, or to marginalize those who are interested in its content.

        • No one is saying that: plays can be translated to serve diverse audiences They cannot, in most cases, serve two audiences simultaneously and fairly without diminishning the work for one group or both, and, I would add, obviously so.

          The distinction you are drawing is irrelevant in this context. The kind of language doesn’t matter. The issue is distraction. That’s all. Just as a translator speaking Polish over Elizabethan dialogue spoils the experience, so does a signer, in a light, speaking with hand motions and facial expressions. Also obviously.

          But at least you are attempting to articulate a position.

          • Finally, you pin point your stance…thank you. I find it hard to believe that you are defending an archaic one at that, that the distraction of an interpreter is reason enough to exclude. We don’t need two buses, two schools, or two theaters; sometimes we need to get over our first vision of perfection and allow authentic experiences to occur.

            • Don’t give me that separate but equal stuff on this issue, and don’t confound factors. It’s not “archaic,” it’s reality. I recognize that for the ideologically rigid, the concept of reality often is ruled archaic, but you don’t make the concrete world melt away by willing it so. YOU don’t know anything about the stage, or, as I believe is more likely, you are just pretending that what you know damn well doesn’t exist. It’s as simple as this: if, in a particular play or musical, a critical moment is best realized by an actor doing or saying something on a dark stage in a single pool of light, the critical moment is best realized by an actor doing or saying something on a dark stage in a single pool of light. The presence of a second performer anywhere within sight, moving, dancing, gesticulating or signing undermines that dramatic choice and harms the performance, the production, the audience experience and the artistic integrity of the author’s vision, as much as barking dog, a circus act, or an occasion of sexual assault. Clear? ANYTHING that causes the audience attention to be focused for even a second anywhere but where I have focused it does this. This isn’t opinion, it is fact. That is what staging is.

              For you to call that fact “archaic” tells me that you are only interested in advocacy, not art, not theater, not ethics, not common sense, and not logic.

              • You are defining what reality means and simply stating that interpreters are a distraction. Well, yes…that is a fact…but moot. But you are not simply stating a fact, are you, you seem to be using this blog and comments to accept (perhaps it is more about not accepting) this fact. While you could be entertaining a conversation about the ranges of this distraction (again, it would have been such an on-point hot topic; however, you seemed to go off the deep end each time). Jack, you seem to be an educated man who can articulate his thoughts well. However, this tantrum seems more about not getting your way and sharing ill strategies to control it as much as you possibly can. As productive functioning adults at the end of 2015, we deal with not getting our way on issues with grace (all the time, everyday). We don’t shut people out or exclude them. I hope you are not in a position at the theater that could do that. We make sacrifices for the sake of inclusion (we give folks front row seats, at times we provide discounts, and we provide interpreters when needed). It’s just what we do. You expressed your two cents in your blog but at the end of the day, your rant is merely a rant. Interpreters will continue to work at shows (and karma may provide you with seats near them). We set good examples for our future leaders and we do our best to include our neighbors, friends, and family members.

                • You are defining what reality means and simply stating that interpreters are a distraction. Well, yes…that is a fact…but moot.

                  What do you mean, “Moot”? Distraction is per se an enemy of effective dramatic art.

                  But you are not simply stating a fact, are you, you seem to be using this blog and comments to accept (perhaps it is more about not accepting) this fact.

                  That’s not even English.

                  While you could be entertaining a conversation about the ranges of this distraction (again, it would have been such an on-point hot topic; however, you seemed to go off the deep end each time).

                  Range? There is no acceptable range of unstaged distraction in performance art.

                  Jack, you seem to be an educated man who can articulate his thoughts well. However, this tantrum seems more about not getting your way and sharing ill strategies to control it as much as you possibly can.

                  “Not getting my way”? Uh, a director, by definition, gets his way. He or she is 100% responsible for what is on stage.

                  We make sacrifices for the sake of inclusion (we give folks front row seats, at times we provide discounts, and we provide interpreters when needed). It’s just what we do.

                  As have I many times. None of these affect the performance or integrity of the product. They are not germane to this issue.

                  You expressed your two cents in your blog but at the end of the day, your rant is merely a rant. Interpreters will continue to work at shows (and karma may provide you with seats near them). We set good examples for our future leaders and we do our best to include our neighbors, friends, and family members.

                  That’s a non-ethical argument, and indeed not an argument at all. “We don’t care., we’ll keep doing it anyway, whether its right, fair or not.” Got it.

                  • This blog is ironic since your theater claims, “Our mission is also driven by the belief that theater should be accessible to all citizens.” That is of course, according to you, unless a patron uses sign language (e.g., Deaf patrons), in that case the theater should be accessible to all citizens except Deaf patrons. We can’t deal with their needs interrupting non-signing folks’ experiences. Deaf folks can come to a separate show (regardless if they are your neighbor, children, or spouse).

                    • Yes, this is the kind of tactic I have learned to expect from people who argue like you. Accessible means “affordable,” and that everyone can get in the door, that’s all it means, or should mean. It did not obligate the theater to warp a production for 98% of the audience so 2% could enjoy it a little more.

                      We can’t deal with their needs interrupting non-signing folks’ experiences.
                      Oh, we can deal with them straight away, by saying no, sorry. Your belief in the right of a minority to demand tyranny over a vast majority is nauseating. How did you get like this? How did you get the unethical idea that a physical condition entitles someone to place their welfare above many others?

          • Would not some accommodation of a non-descript fashion, not involving a signer but perhaps a subdued screen with equally subdued subtitles? Or would that even be too much?

              • But they are not as good for the Deaf patron. Would your meaning be conveyed correctly to a hearing person if you had no microphones and speakers but only subtitles? Add to that the fact that English and ASL are not the same language so the grammar of English and the idioms of English might not make sense in written English to a Deaf person.

                • Then they are out of luck, I guess. My duty is to convey the work to the largest portion of the audience as possible in the most effective and artistic way. Sacrificing the work, the artists’ work, including mine, and the enjoyment of a hundred hearing patrons for the admitted benefit of a few deaf patrons is an unethical trade-off.

        • My precious performance is a work of art, not a piece of ham. If it is going to be turned into something other than the way I created it, then I reject it, yes, and there is nothing narcissistic about it. If I am asked to direct a show for both hearing and deaf audiences so that each can enjoy and understand it, I can do that. But imposing another dramatic presence on the work I and the other artists have created without our input and control is simply sabotaging the art.

        • Yes, I know what it means, you pompous, entitled, victim-mongering ass. Because I don’t believe that being deaf gives a single audience member the right or privilege to hijack a dramatic performance not planned or staged for their particular needs means that I am discriminating or feel that the non-hearing are inferior? Bite me. You can’t make an argument based on logic, ethics or fact, so you demonize anyone who doesn’t kowtow to your narrow, self-serving, guilt-based construct, eh?

          Screw you. You’re banned. I have am a Jerkist. I don’t tolerate jerks.

          • Chiming in here, hijacking a dramatic performance? Inferior (superior)? This thread got heated fast but are you not jumping to the far end of the dramatic side of this? I don’t claim to label you (not my place) but there are tones and ideas within the article (and your comments) that seem to land in the ethnocentric/xenophobic ballpark. You don’t seem to be one that budges often but I hope you step back and see how the theater community, patrons, and all those between may view your harsh take on people who are different than you (I don’t think you realize how close you were to an on-point article about the implications of adding interpreters (from the bad to the….well, you never expressed anything else). The implications of interpreters going overboard in their work are serious conversations among professionals and it was neat to have a person on the stage side of things chime in….until it got dark.

            Now you are stating that just being Deaf lands a person the power to hijack a performance (especially if it was not originally staged for an accommodation)? They are a treat? Your focus, again, is not the ill mannered interpreter (who may indeed hijack the show and we should be leery about) but the Deaf patron. Your logic seems to be based in ill experiences with interpreters (how you began your article) but you repeatedly walk around the idea that different is bad. Are you really defending that Deaf people are the root of the problem of your concerns? I am finding it hard to think anything else, you appear to be in support to exclude and marginalize for artistic reasons, i.e., so shows may be enjoyed only by like-minded folks (deemed by you); that logic seems to be the only narrow, self-serving construct here.

            A dynamic conversation about the work would be about the delicate balance interpreters carefully navigate between shows and the interpretations. You’re right, if abused, it’s an ugly and awful result (the show was hijacked!); but if eloquently executed, it opens the art to more people (yes, perhaps beyond what the playwright expected); embrace more differences, accept sacrifices, and create opportunities for people. I have faith that the bulk of patrons in the audience get it, they get that every human should experience art. Most of us would not shut the door on others and put our precious experiences over the opportunity to share moments together. Merry Christmas. I’m done.

    • Gonna be snarky but I don’t think anyone will mind:

      He posted his opinion on the internet. Therefore, regardless of what he said, it would attract those who think differently 😉

      • No question Jack invites disagreement, and most people here are thick skinned enough to deal with some snark, though a discussion several months down the line may reveal some thinner skins, but that’s beside the point.

        I made my observation about this post and the Dogsbite one, because most discussions have their flurry of traffic in the first 3-4 days and then it tapers off to nothing very rapidly. It’s interesting when a half year old discussion suddenly explodes back to life with several individual commentators. I always wonder who found the discussion and spread it among their like minded friends.

        • The link was shared to me via other signers (deaf and hearing alike).

          Of the signers I know, I am one of the few who studied theatre first and sign language second. This is the first time I have heard a theatre professional’s comments about interpreting and the stage, who went themselves practiced in sign language.

          It’s interesting.

  11. “The last time the prospect of a signed show was raised in a show I directed, I insisted that the signer audition his technique for me, and sign a contract promising to keep extraneous gesticulating, movements and facial expressions to a minimum, or risk forfeiting the fee.”

    Did you consult with an expert on the language when you auditioned the interpreter? I’m curious because it’s clear you know very little about the language and I’m wondering what basis you used to determine their skill and appropriateness for your show. If not, how can you determine what is ‘extraneous gesticulating’ and what is required by the language to convey the ideas you are so carefully constructed

    • Irrelevant. The signer was chosen by the group wishing to have the show signed. The audition was based on the signer’s suitability for non-deaf members of the audience. I wouldn’t audition a signer on his or her signing ability—that’s for someone who, as you say, knows what he’s watching.

      • I find this discussion interesting because my experiences as an actor have directly influences my skills as a signer.

        As an actor, I am aware that presenting a dramatic performance as a whole coheisive unit can be vital. Months of work (I know my friends in the design aspects of a show spend more than a few weeks on a show) can be on the line when a show opens. I value your opinion on what may *appear* intrusive to your work but I question your ability to determine what is intrusive via American Sign Language.

        Your opinion on what is suitable for the hearing audience, something that is not intended for them is in anyway, is not in your ability to judge. While you may not find aesthetically pleasing, it is the language none-the-less. However, I would love for a working director to work with signing professionals to help educate *each other* on ways to accomplish interpretation effectively and ethically while being as faithful as possible to the director’s and artist’s vision.

        As to the ethics, it is not eithical for you as the director to distort the message for the deaf audience but leave the message intact for the hearing audience. If discovered, the interpreter could face serious repercussion if caught doing such. Deliberately altering the message is oppressive for your deaf patrons who may have spent a life time missing out on experiences because hearing people do not take the time to make accommodations.

        In short, you are correct in the interpreter’s obligation to convey the message as unobtrusively possible but I question your ability to accurately determine what is obtrusive and what is simply a language you do not understand.

        Thanks for your time.

        • I wanted to get an answer to you, TAWCS, because you are the only one who has contributed a recent comment on this topic who does not appear to have an agenda, a chip on his shoulder, or an unsupportable bias.

          You are in italics, I’m I’m bold.

          As an actor, I am aware that presenting a dramatic performance as a whole coheisive unit can be vital.

          As an actor, you should be aware that there is no can about it: it IS vital.

          Months of work (I know my friends in the design aspects of a show spend more than a few weeks on a show) can be on the line when a show opens.

          Again, CAN? Are.

          I value your opinion on what may *appear* intrusive to your work but I question your ability to determine what is intrusive via American Sign Language.

          I am a director. My job is to determine what is or isn’t intrusive. I am a good director because I sense what the audience will sense. If I am distracted, then I know they will be distracted. My ability in this respect is beyond challenge; it is what has made me successful at what I do. You seem to be suggesting that it matters WHAT is intrusive. That makes no sense. “I question your ability to determine what is intrusive via American Sign Language.” On what basis? If I, as any good director can and must, am able to determine that a feature of the environment is intrusive…a crying child, a noisy air conditioner, a malfunctioning frennel, whatever, WHAT that feature is doesn’t matter. It’s intrusive, a hazard to the performance, and must go. Easy.

          Your opinion on what is suitable for the hearing audience, something that is not intended for them is in anyway, is not in your ability to judge.

          What? This also makes no sense. A director must be able to determine what the audience will feel, or the director is useless. It’s not an “opinion.” It’s certainty. I have watched my shows with signers, and when I watch my shows, I watch the audience. I know where I want them to be looking, and how I want then reacting. What I see is an audience watching something that has nothing to do with the show I staged at crucial moments. What I hear is diminished reactions and applause. Evey time a hearing patron says, “Oh, that signer was very entertaining!” that’s big problem. The signer is not part of the cast or the show. If he or she is not invisible to the audience, then he is a deficit. A flaw.
          While you may not find aesthetically pleasing, it is the language none-the-less. However, I would love for a working director to work with signing professionals to help educate *each other* on ways to accomplish interpretation effectively and ethically while being as faithful as possible to the director’s and artist’s vision.

          As to the ethics, it is not ethical for you as the director to distort the message for the deaf audience but leave the message intact for the hearing audience.

          You are arguing that the show should be diminished for 98% of the audience for the benefit of the 2%. Wrong, crazy wrong. Every audience member is exactly as important as any other. 100 patrons are 50X as important as two. It is unethical for the two to demand, expect, or require 100 to suffer for their benefit, unless they fully consent and are informed in advance, and also only if the artists, me included, consent. A play is a perishable work. It lives for the time it is on stage live, and then vanishes. I don’t want to sacrifice one single chance to get it right, for anybody. Nor should I have to.

          If discovered, the interpreter could face serious repercussion if caught doing such. Deliberately altering the message is oppressive for your deaf patrons who may have spent a life time missing out on experiences because hearing people do not take the time to make accommodations.

          The issue is not substance. As suggested, I would have no problem with subtitles. The problem again, is a human being not in costume, not in character, in light, as part of the stage picture, pulling focus and distracting attention.

          In short, you are correct in the interpreter’s obligation to convey the message as unobtrusively possible but I question your ability to accurately determine what is obtrusive and what is simply a language you do not understand.

          I don’t have to understand it, and in fact, to judge how my audience will be affected by it, I shouldn’t understand it. Don’t tell me that a director doesn’t know what is obtrusive in his own production! Where do you act? I give notes about wagging fingers, too long pauses, slow light cues, overly loud music cues, a million tiny things, every single one of which slightly damages the effectiveness of a performance, but I can’t judge what’s obtrusive about a man or a woman standing on or near the stage in full view waving their hands and arms? I don’t know how you can be involved in performing arts and say such a thing.

          Thanks for your time.
          My pleasure.

    • Oh, eat a bug, you twit. The issue is communication, not keeping up with the latest sanctioned sensitive-speak. How about “deaf as a post”? How about “hearless”? I’m not going to be bullied over terminology political correctness.

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