Tag Archives: audiences

Sign Language Interpreter Ethics Epilogue: “A Christmas Carol”

Gavin Alvedy rehearses a scene from the Downriver Youth Performing Arts Center's "Miracle on 34th Street" as DYPAC alum Emily Zaleski signs alongside him. Zaleski, who grew up performing on DYPAC’s stage, now is a certified American Sign Language interpreter with Synergy on Stage and will interpret during the Dec. 8 performance.

Sign language interpreters and their advocates descended on Ethics Alarms in indignation aftert  my March post about “showboating sign language interpreters for deaf audience members.” It took until December for my commentary to reach this passionate interest group, but when it did, I was called many names, including “ablist,” and had to put up with comments like this one from the ironically named “Danny Who Knows About Stuff”:

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.

How I love the quote around “ethics.”

Danny was pretty typical. See, I don’t need to know about any of Danny’s “stuff” as a director of a play or musical. All I need to know is whether a feature of the performance detracts from it by foiling the focus that the staging was designed to facilitate. Every competent director knows that. The needs of the signer and the signer’s much, much smaller audience cannot be permitted to wag the dog, or make the dog trip on its tongue.  or perish of neglect.

“Danny Who Knows About Stuff” became “Danny Who Is Banned From Ethics Alarms,” in case you didn’t guess.

If I had already experienced what I experienced yesterday with a “professional” signer, that March post would have been much tougher. I directed an staged reading of “A Christmas Carol” with a cast of 30 terrific actors for a single free performance for D.C.’s Martin Luther King Library, and was told that the library would be sending a signer. Now, a signer for your usual staged reading is like having a signer for an oil painting. It makes no sense. In readings, the actors mostly read. Presumably the deaf can read “A Christmas Carol” themselves. You could say they would want to see the performers, but  in readings the performers’ acting mostly consists of vocal expression, which the deaf audience can’t hear, and facial expressions, which they won’t see if they are watching the signer. As it happens, I don’t do staged readings like that; there is a lot of movement and staging, so a signer makes some sense.

But they didn’t know how I would stage it.

By the time we got to the final rehearsal, I had forgotten about the alleged signer, who was supposed to at least attend one rehearsal so I could fit her onto the stage where she would be seen and not get in the way. She arrived, for the first time, 15 minutes before the performance, and immediately announced that she didn’t know whether she would be signing or not.  That’s helpful. She also complained that the script was very well adapted for signing (Why, thank-you!) and that the show, at 90 minutes, was impossibly long for a single signer to do: she was waiting to see if a second signer was coming, as she had assumed. Now, nobody warned me that I had to make room for two signers in the small performing space, neither of whom would deign to attend a rehearsal. ( Her complaint about length was also nonsense. I have had single signers for many shows longer than 90 minutes, and they didn’t collapse from exhaustion or finger cramps.) Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Professions, Rights

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. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Professions, U.S. Society

Cellphone Videos Of Stand-Up Comedy Routines Are Unethical: Ban Them

no cell phonesVulture features an interview with Chris Rock, on which he waxes forth on many topics.I don’t especially care what Chris Rock has to say about Ferguson, but I care a lot about his views on stand-up comedy, where he qualifies as an expert, and the disastrous effect unauthorized videos are having on his art.

Rock has walked off the stage in appearances when he couldn’t stop audience members from filming him, and for very good reasons. He doesn’t want untested, half-baked material to get out to the public via YouTube:

“There are a few guys good enough to write a perfect act and get onstage, but everybody else workshops it and workshops it, and it can get real messy. It can get downright offensive. Before everyone had a recording device and was wired like Sammy the Bull, you’d say something that went too far, and you’d go, ‘Oh, I went too far,’ and you would just brush it off. But if you think you don’t have room to make mistakes, it’s going to lead to safer, gooier stand-up. You can’t think the thoughts you want to think if you think you’re being watched.”

On Elahe Izadi’s Syle Blog in the Washington Post site, other comics voiced similar concerns. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Etiquette and manners, Humor and Satire, The Internet, U.S. Society, Workplace

The Ethics of Singing For Muammar…No, Wait, I Mean José

Mariah-CareyIt is seldom that an ethics controversy repeats itself so exactly that I am tempted to re-run a previous post word for word with just a couple of names changed, but the flack Mariah Carey is getting from human rights activists and others for accepting a million bucks to perform for Angola’s dictator is just such an instance.

I wrote about this situation in 2011, when Nelly Furtado (and Carey) were under fire for performing for the late Muamar Gaddafi, when he was dictating to Libya.  I officially incorporate said post into this one, in full.  Just read it here, with “Mariah” substituted wherever I wrote “Nelly,” “Carey” for “Furtado,” and the name of Angola’s president, José Eduardo dos Santos, wherever the dead Libyan leader’s name appears.It all still applies. To sum up for the large percentage of people who, surveys say, can’t be bothered to click on links, it’s completely bogus criticism. Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Popular Culture

Ethics Quiz: Grade The Misbehaving Celebrities!

Our subjects:

Oh, Bill...you're such a scream!

Oh, Bill…you’re such a scream!

Bill Maher, bad boy comic, political satirist and host of HBO’s “Real Time”

Maher’s fans

Ron Futrelle, former sportscaster and Las Vegas media personality

Sarah Palin, former governor, VP candidate, Fox commentator and conservative icon

All clashed over a joke made by Maher during a stand-up gig, and your challenge is to decide who gets the lowest ethics grade. Here’s what happened: Futrelle was in the audience for Maher’s show in  Las Vegas. Maher made a joke about Palin’s son, Trig, who has Down Syndrome. According to Futrelle, the joke  upset him, as well as the fact that the audience appeared to enjoy Maher’s using Palin’s innocent and mentally challenged child as a comedy topic, and laughed heartily. Futrelle began heckling Maher, eventually prompting an annoyed audience member to remind him that he was not the attraction, and suggest that he shut his gob. Futrelle persisted, and when confronted by security, left.

Through Futrelle’s blog’s account of his experience, Brietbart and the miracle of social media, Mama Grizzly Palin learned that her young son had been (again) converted into joke-fodder, and tweeted her reaction to Maher:

“Hey bully, on behalf of all kids whom you hatefully mock in order to make yourself feel big, I hope one flattens your lily white wimpy a#*.”

Our grading scale:

Exemplary ethical conduct.

Ethical and appropriate conduct that could have been better executed.

C  Acceptable conduct according to reasonable social norms

D Unethical conduct

Despicable conduct

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is, therefore, to accept this challenge:

Give Maher, Maher’s audience, Futrelle and Palin their ethics grades. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, Professions, Quizzes, The Internet, U.S. Society

Hilary Swank Gets Nelly Furtadoed. And It’s Still Wrong

What's that, Mr. Kadyrof? You want me to give you a private ethics seminar for a half-million bucks? What!!! I am outraged! I spit on your filthy lucre! KIDDING!!!!!

I seriously considered taking the Ethics Alarms post on singer Nelly Furtado posted here in March and substituting actress Hilary Swank’s name for Furtado, and Chechen despot Ramzan Kadyrov for now-deceased Libya dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It is the same controversy and issue with the same result: an American performing artist sells her performing talents to a brutal foreign leader, and is bullied and shamed by human rights advocates and media critics into apologizing profusely and donating the large fee ( a million dollars in Furtado’s case, a reported half-million for Swank) to charity.

This was wrong in March, and it’s wrong today.

Earlier this month, Swank and other celebrities attended Kadyrov’s birthday bash in Chechnya. She was working. But while every other corporation and contractor, as well as the United States itself, can do business around the world without being held to the impossible standard of only accepting morally exemplary customers, Swank, like Furtado, Mariah Carey and others before her, was targeted for not doing the bidding of human rights activists and sacrificing her livelihood to be their billboard. The bully in this case in the Human Rights Foundation, which unethically brutalized Swank to achieve publicity for its own mission—a worthy one to be sure, but not so worthy that it justifies a PR mugging with a $500,000 loss to its victim. Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Professions, U.S. Society

The Ethics of Singing For Muammar

Sing, Nelly---and charge him through the nose.

Singer Nelly Furtado has been attacked recently for accepting a million dollars in 2007 to entertain Muammar Gaddafi and his family. The idea seems to be that, as ringingly put by screenwriter Mark Tapper,

“It is quite simply willful blindness to claim that there is no moral dimension in the choice to perform privately for a monster like Gaddafi, and in being paid exorbitantly from funds no doubt stolen from his own people, or misappropriated from foreign aid or dirty deals.”

Furtado isn’t the only one who crooned for the Libyan dictator, apparently. Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Beyoncé and other performers also accepted big bucks to give Muammar and his family a good time.Furtado is donating her fee to charity in the wake of criticism like Tapper’s and Beyoncé has also donated the million that she received to charity, apologizing profusely. Mariah Carey is begging for forgiveness.

I’m glad that the stars are giving their money to worthy causes, and no doubt it is a good public relations move in a society where half-baked ethical notions become conventional wisdom before much thought has been applied to them. Nevertheless, Furtado and the rest did nothing wrong by entertaining Gaddafi. Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Sports, U.S. Society