Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

Sign Language Interpreter

We feel like we’re a red carpet to the
production. So we’re not down there having a good time. I try not to upstage what’s going on
onstage. Hi. My name is Alan Champion and I’m a sign language interpreter. [music] My work as a sign language interpreter in the
theater is less anchored to the script. I use the script
has almost like a dictionary, a reference tool. I’m much more interested in the performance and seeing what it is that
the audience is getting what’s the director trying to get across the
audience. You can get some of that from the script but
some of its really through the actor’s interpretations themselves. Now I’m like
the the boy that was raised by wolves. My parents are deaf and so I was kind of
an outsider brought in by birth, so I’ve been signing my entire life. It has
been a part of my entire life. I was a singer in college. I
majored in music and it wasn’t until I left college that
my sister gave me a call and said “guess what?! They are
hiring people at the local community college to do what we already know how to do.” Of course, at the time I had no idea how much training really needed to be a professionals sign language interpreter, but I dove
right in headfirst and began interpreting in the local
college. That’s in some ways how I built up my
chops as a sign language interpreter. The performance world and the
interpreting world began to merge when I was living in St Louis between
’78 and ’80. I was doing summer stock theater
in the summertime then during the academic year I was interpreting at a
college. At one point a company from I think Iowa,
came through town to do a production of The Authentic Life of Billy the kKid and
somebody roped me into interpreting it with no preparation time. I interpreted four
characters by myself and the Deaf folks that came in, there
is a crowd of them, just loved it and I love doing it
because it was meaningful. It meant something to them. I felt like I was
really providing a service and that’s what my work is all about. Because there wasn’t training when I
started I was shanghaied into teaching in the programs
when they began. I had to get my training very much on a ad hoc basis. As a result
of that I’m still training! I probably spent more hours in
training than most people go through an interpreter training program in with
some other gurus on the field I’ve been very
fortunate to be mentored and trained by top dogs in the field. Believe it or not
because I was living in the Midwest my first exposure to Children of a Lesser God
was not until Phyllis Frelich got up on stage and
received her Tony Award for it. “I share this award with” and I saw the deaf woman get up and
start signing up. I thought, what the heck happened here. There’s a Broadway show that talks
about issues related to my life, my parents’ lives. It was about that time, maybe six months
or so later, that I moved to New York. I got to see the show. I worked with the
actors on the show because I was hired to work as a sign language interpreter
backstage. As it turns out, I reflected some
transitions are happening in communication in the Deaf community. Such an important work just like
Miracle Worker was. I think there is a difference between
interpreting for a play like Miracle Worker or a are Shakespearian work or a Broadway
musical. Miracle Worker has its own unique set have
circumstances we have to take into consideration. For example, there are a lot of visuals in the show.
Helen Keller’s movements, how she’s learning to adapt to
her environment, the relationship she has with Annie Sullivan, her teacher and lifelong friend. There’s a lot a visual information that
doesn’t need to be interpreted and one other jobs we interpreters have you don’t get from script is when
do we get out of the way when do we stop interpreting. When does the
information that’s been given auditorally available
visually as well. So we have to think about those things.
Dividing up the characters amongst the team with three interpreters is very
very important. It shouldn’t be about what we
need that more about what the audience needs and what will make it easy for
them to figure out who is interpreting for whom. As the play
gets more and more characters in it becomes more and more
tricky. It’s important to time your interpretation so that an audience
member can watch the show and Miracle Worker is a
wonderful example this. I watched this last week several times happen with the students because this
particular interpreted performances for deaf students. We noticed at key times throughout the show they
would all be looking at the play and almost all of them will turn to the interpreters
to find out what is that what you’re saying right now. You’re waiting for that
moment. You don’t want to be interpreting while they’re looking at the stage. It’s a constant give-and-take and you try to be sensitive to that
audience reaction so that they get the information when they need it, when they want it. Sometimes we have access to the staff, the artistic staff. We might have specific
questions to ask about the script, but for myself I personally like to just hear an actor or
director talk about their work. It’s informative to hear them to just
talk about it. A good interpreter is a good listener. It’s a wonderful treat when you get
that opportunity for a show, we don’t get it very often. I have
interpreted a number Broadway shows maybe close to ninety. Think my favorite show to interprete was a production by Steppenwolf called Grapes of Wrath. It was a
beautiful production. It touches on my homeland, I’m from
Oklahoma. I think anything that is heavily based on the auditory or
plays on words in English. Neil Simon can be tricky. Lanford Wilson
can be tricky. Noel Coward can be very tricky to
interpret. Stephen Sondheim musicals are very, very
challenging to interpret because they are rapid oftentimes. A lot of people are amused by the fact
that musicals are so popular for deaf people. They love to go the musical. Some
people do have residual hearing so there is some enjoyment of the sound. There is enjoyment of music
the vibration that one feels. Currently I love Wicked. I love Next to
Normal. Those two shows were phenomenal to interpret and they are beautiful shows. One of the lovely things about this work is
I get to meet so many people. I get to work with wonderful interpreters. I love providing service to deaf
people. I love being around people deaf people. I am comfortable being around deaf people. It’s something… I just. I’m at home
doing this work. [music]

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