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