American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting Resources

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Ethics & Role:

Situational Studies:


Performing Arts Interpreting:
Qualification, Recognition, and Betterment through Education

by Damon Timm

Decmeber 12, 2001


My first bout of hands-on experience with sign language interpreted theatre came in the form of Shakespeare's Henry V. As part of an experiential education project at Northeastern University (NU) that year, I spent five months translating (from English to American Sign Language) and then performing (all seven shows with three other signers) Henry V in conjunction with students and faculty from both the Theatre and ASL departments. My next experience came in the form of the opera Moby Dick, performed at the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, MA. In light of these two interpreted performances, one may be inclined to think that whatever show it is I interpret next should be considerably less challenging now that I have "tackled" both Shakespeare and opera. My experience, however, tells me otherwise. Any production-be it Shakespeare, opera, a musical, or comedy-is a challenge and each requires the same time, foresight, knowledge, creativity and drive as any other.

In the Northeastern University American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting Program there is a saying: "what you don't understand you can't interpret, and what you misunderstand you misinterpret" (Cokely). This is very true, and applies to any situation in which an interpreter may find herself. While every interpreting job or assignment differs from the next, the performing arts field is drastically unique in comparison to most other interpreting situations. The most apparent example of the distinctions between performing arts interpretation and that of a "typical" interpreting job is that in the performing arts, an interpreter is able to rehearse and practice with a script instead of producing a spontaneous and impromptu interpretation. The interpreter (or interpretation team) can translate and work with the text over a period of time, which allows the interpreter to choose between various translation options instead of having to rely on whatever is "shot-from-the-hip"-as is often the case during a "typical" assignment. Along with these rehearsals comes a whole host of artistic considerations and performance opportunities (from conveying the director's artistic vision to clothing choices) that fall largely outside of the scope of what an interpreter without a performing arts background has been trained to handle.

Considering the mantram of the ASL Program here at NU, it is fair to state that while understanding a piece of theatre can be very difficult, interpreting it is even harder. It is my opinion that in order to make informed decisions during the translation/rehearsal process, an interpreter must be well versed in the theatre and performing arts. After completing an entire course ("Script Analysis for the Stage") that focused on the analysis of a single play's script, I have come to realize the vast amount of skill and time needed to properly analyze and translate a production. It is not a simple task. The skills needed to successfully translate and perform in the performing arts interpreting field warrant special consideration. As Rico Patterson-a performing arts interpreter-writes, "[i]nterpreting chops and performance chops are separate things… each takes years to develop" (10). To successfully translate and perform an interpreted production, one must have considerable experience and working knowledge of the theatre, in addition to the devotion of her time and interest.

The preceding considerations stem from the basic premise that there are inherent difficulties in interpreting a piece of art, and that these difficulties (along with innumerable other considerations) are often overlooked by performing arts interpreter teams (both interpreters and ASL consultants alike); furthermore, these considerations and challenges can be better met by well-trained and experienced performing arts interpreters than they can by otherwise competent interpreters who have no performing arts background. The following proposal will: [1] outline and address the issues faced in the performing arts interpreting field today; [2] examine the importance of access to theatrical production for Deaf and hard of hearing audiences; [3] consider the importance and design of a qualified performing arts interpretation team in addition to textual analysis and translation; [4] discuss the current path being taken by professionals in the state of Massachusetts; and [5] make recommendations regarding the provision of educational opportunities within the state for performing arts interpreters to better address the issues outlined herein.

The Performing Arts Interpreting Field

The problem that lies within the scope of sign language interpreted performing arts productions is three-fold: first, there are not enough interpreted performances offered; second, there are not enough well-trained and/or qualified performing arts interpreters available; third, there is not enough funding provided to compensate for the time and effort invested by the translation teams (i.e., those who work on the interpreting assignment). In order to effectively compass and address these issues, the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) should support a program-with the goal of qualification and recognition through education-dedicated to addressing issues faced within the performing arts interpreting field. The explicit goals of this program should be to:

While skilled performing arts interpreters do exist-though not in large numbers-they are currently only recognizable by reputation and/or word-of-mouth. A program dedicated to the betterment of interpreted performing arts productions will address all of the issues bulleted above, and, furthermore, it will lead to a method of recognizing and contacting those interpreters with the abilities, wherewithal, and desire when an interpreting team for a performance is requested by a performing arts institution, group or individual. The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) is currently in the process of addressing some of the issues mentioned above; those issues, as well as what MCDHH can further do to tackle the problems outlined above, will be discussed further in the paper.

History of Advocacy for Performing Arts Interpretation Education and Qualification

Sign language interpreting, as a profession, is fairly new. Unlike doctors or lawyers-who have been recognized as practitioners of a viable profession for thousands of years-interpreters are only recently being acknowledged professionally. Since this profession is so new, and the demand for qualified interpreters consistently exceeds the supply, interpreters are largely uncategorized by their specializations (unlike a medical or legal professional who typically has a particular area of expertise and qualification). This is beginning to change, however, as the body of qualified interpreters begins to grow, more educational and training opportunities within certain fields of interpretation are being offered (e.g., for K-12 interpreters), and efforts are being made to identify qualified interpreting specialists (e.g., the Specialist Certificate: Legal, supported by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf). As more interpreters become certified and as higher educational opportunities are made readily available, a greater emphasis will be placed on identifying interpreters by the field in which she does her best work in (e.g., legal, medical, K-12 or theatrical). In order for interpreters to be recognized within the performing arts interpreting field, a method of educating and acknowledging interpreters needs to be addressed.

The idea behind recognizing and ensuring the quality of performing arts interpretation is not new. In 1979, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf held a specialist certificate examination; ten people were certified and granted a Specialist Certificate: Performing Arts (SC:PA). These ten people are the only ones to hold a SC:PA to date, as the first testing and certification was also the last. The testing and certification was the culminating product at the end of a five day training, which included instruction in "acting, voice, movement, translation, role, and discussions of practical interpreting concerns" (Bailey 14). Janet Bailey, who was granted a SC:PA at the end of the training, remembers how, even then, this program was very helpful-if only as a tool for collaboration and discussion regarding the act of interpreting in the field of performing arts. As we can see, the idea behind recognition and education of interpreters for the field of performing arts has been present for, at the very least, twenty odd years. The concerns expressed in 1979, are no different than they are today. The reason, I believe, that the SC:PA did not remain active is because it was introduced long before its time; in the late seventies, the mere idea of a "certified" interpreter was very new-let alone the thought of a "specialist." Today, however, there is still a need for interpreters with specializations and areas of expertise. In order to address this issue as it relates to performing arts interpretation, a program that focuses on this very goal needs to be established.

The Theatre

Unlike many European countries, the United States does not place as much emphasis on the importance of the theatre as a social and educational tool. The thought is often expressed that theatre is just another form of entertainment. This is not the sentiment among theatre professionals and regular theatre attendees; instead, they (like their counterparts in a larger social context in Europe) view theatre as a necessary and integral part of society. Bill Ivey, current chair of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), as reported by the Boston Globe, has made the following observations regarding the arts and American society:

The arts "are not yet very important, not fully established in public policy. But we frame some of our deepest beliefs and debate some of our most pressing social concerns around art and art-making," he said. If the arts are going to make a difference in public policy, he contended, the NEA should "move beyond entitlement to an era of community service" … [Ivey] said the best argument for funding is that the arts are "essential to maintaining a democratic form of government." (Dezell, "NEA")

In today's economic and political climate, many cultural institutions are struggling to maintain funding and patronage, and are "skittish, if not scared, about the future" (Dezell, "Boston"); however, as Ivey explains, it is imperative that the arts are considered pertinent and necessary to the general public, in lieu of being viewed as a frivolous facet of "entertainment" that is easily replaced, exchanged or forgotten. "We are in trouble," Nancy Kindelan writes, "when the general perception of theatre is only that of 'entertainment'" (73). Art is important to the society in which it exists, and all members of society-black/white, gay/straight, hearing/Deaf-have a right to be part of its expression. Consider:

On February 7, 1988, the National Council on the Arts approved the following resolution: "The National Council on the Arts believes that the arts are essential to leading a full and productive life, and reaffirms its support for making the arts available to all people, including those with physical and mental disabilities. Therefore, the Endowment should continue to exercise leadership in enhancing full participation in the arts by disabled people and assure their needs are taken into account in all elements of the operations of the Endowment, its grantees, and subgrantees." ("Access to the Arts")

A resolve to create access to artistic endeavors is the first step towards achieving inclusion of all members of society into theatres and other artistic institutions; the next logical step, is to examine how access may be successfully realized.

Creating Access to Theatres

Access to the arts can only be addressed when it is viewed as a complicated, emotional, personal, and societal expression-one that is largely different from a television show or lecture. Assistive listening devices and captions are one way to compass access to a theatrical production; however, just as an auditory description of a painting may fail to capture the true nature of its artistic expression, so too, I posit, do text captions on movies and in theatres. First, captions are presented in English, which is often times a Deaf person's second language, and most likely not their strongest; second, captions fail to imbibe countless facets of the spoken word (e.g., emotion). To fully compass access to a theatrical production for a Deaf or hard of hearing individual whose primary language is ASL, I suggest that a qualified interpreting team is needed. A theatrical production is an interpretation of a play script; a sign language interpretation is the next logical step for access to this production. A production makes the director and author's ideas accessible to an audience; sign language interpreters make a production accessible across cultural and linguistic bounds for a Deaf audience.

While it would be ideal if all artistic institutions approached a production with the desire and intention of having it interpreted merely for the sake of providing equal opportunities to all members of society, wheresoever this is not the case, one can turn to federal mandate. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that "a public accommodation [a theatre] ... furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication" (Sec.36.303.c). A qualified sign language interpreter falls under the category of "auxiliary aids and services" (Sec.36.303.b) and is defined under ADA as "an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary" (Sec.36.104). As I have argued, this definition of a qualified interpreter (or interpreting team) "recognizes that the skill level [of the interpreter] needed for certain types of communication may be higher than for other types of communication. An interpreter who can provide 'effective' and 'accurate' interpretation in a one-on-one conversation may not be qualified to provide the highly skilled interpreting needed for a theater production or other stage event" ("Obligations of Theaters" 2). Not only does it seem logical that a qualified interpreter should be provided at a theatrical event, but it is also required under federal law.

Interpreters are not, of course, the only means of compassing access to a theatrical production; as mentioned, assistive listening devices and captions are another viable means for ensuring "effective communication." It is important to remember that there is not one method that will encompass the needs of all Deaf and hard of hearing individuals; those patrons who are not competent in American Sign Language will not, of course, benefit from an ASL interpreted performance. As "Obligations of Theaters" explains:

It would not be unusual to find that a theater ... must provide several different types of auxiliary services. For example, a qualified interpreter might be needed to provide access for deaf individuals, while an assistive listening system (such as a loop or FM transmitter or other device) might also be needed to give effective access to the amplification system for a hearing aid user who does not use sign language ... [the theatre] can choose among various alternatives as long as the result is effective communication for the hearing impaired customer. (2)

In order to effectively communicate and provide access to a production for a Deaf or hard of hearing individual who relies on ASL as his or her mode of communication, a qualified interpreter-or interpretation team-is needed.

Qualified Performing Arts Interpretation

Translating an artistic performance cross-culturally and cross-linguistically requires the time, dedication, and talent of a team of interpreters (both Deaf and hearing) who not only have an understanding of the different languages and cultures, but also a personally awareness of artistic expression. It is the ability to translate and perform linguistically, culturally, and artistically that makes a interpreted theatrical production successful and meaningful to the targeted audience.

ASL Consultants

Here in Massachusetts, a well-constructed and well-funded interpreted performance will usually consist of two or more qualified hearing interpreters and one Deaf individual who fulfils the role of an "ASL consultant." In MCDHH's "Communication Access Mini-Guide for Theatre and Other Cultural Organizations," an ASL Consultant is considered a "major player in the translation process ... [who] will work closely with the interpreters to ensure the English to ASL translation is clean, clear and appropriate in tone, discourse and style" (2). The ASL consultant serves as an integral part of the performance team, for he or she is able to view the interpreted part of the performance with the same perspective as those who will later be in the audience watching the show; unlike feedback other qualified hearing interpreters may be able to provide, the ASL consultant is able to give an accurate account with recommendations regarding how the interpretation is coming across without the aid of sound (which, no matter how hard she tries, the interpreter who can hear will never be able to remove herself from). This counsel is necessary to ensure a clear, accurate, and artistic final product.

Janis Cole, a Deaf artist involved as a performer and ASL consultant for over twenty years (on Broadway and off), considers the role of the ASL consultant to be, at times, similar to that of a director (only in a more specific sense of the term-as it pertains to the interpretive production). A good ASL consultant, she posits, is one who can apply both her understanding and artistic creativity to the translation and performance via linguistic, cultural, character, and performing arts choices; in addition, a qualified ASL consultant must have a 'Deaf eye'-the ability to analyze and provide feedback on a production from a visual standpoint that will ensure an appropriate translation from the auditory to the visual. These are the considerations and details that make or break a simultaneous performance of the team's translation during the run of a theatrical performance ("Personal Interview").

Qualified Interpreters

The other two professionals (typically) involved in a well-constructed and well-funded performing arts interpreting team are qualified hearing interpreters. As we have seen, a qualified interpreter is both necessary (from the standpoint of ensuring a quality interpretation) and required (considering Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act). A qualified interpreter's skills can be considered from two different viewpoints: that which happens prior to the show (translation decisions) and that which happens during the show (performance decisions). Expertise in these two areas is part of what makes an interpreter qualified to work within the theatre.

Candace Broecker Penn, an experienced Broadway theatrical interpreter and instructor, writes that "the bedrock, or framework, of all theatrical interpretation has to be the creation of a good translation that captures the essence of the play in a way that is directly understandable and enjoyed by Deaf audiences" (12). This is very true, and any theatrical professional will give a corroborative testament-understanding and expressing the underpinnings of the playwright's script is essential. Analyzing, understanding, and translating a script is not, however, all that is required of the qualified interpreter. A production is never complete on the written page-it is only when it has been performed that it is truly consummated. As most people who have worked in the performing arts interpreting field will testify, "[t]heatrical interpreting, at least that sort which happens onstage for an audience is not interpreting at all ... it is performing" (Paterson 10). Therefore, it can be concluded that the qualified theatrical interpreter must also be a performer; a strong performing arts background is essential for an interpreter to produce a successful performing arts interpretation (Cole).

Training an interpreter to become a qualified theatrical interpreter should include a combination of translation and performance instruction. Acting classes or instruction can greatly benefit the performing arts interpreter, as can specific instruction regarding the process of translating a script. The ASL consultant and performing arts interpreter-working together as a team with their individual skills, knowledge, experience, and perspectives-must tackle the translation and logistical considerations of a production effectively in order to produce a successful performing arts interpretation.

Textual Considerations

The first logical step a commissioned qualified performing arts team must take is to acquire the script and begin a textual analysis and base translation. This is a fairly daunting task, as anyone who has undertaken a performing arts project knows, and a considerable amount of time is needed. Script analysis can take on many forms from historical research to biographical information of the author; however, the first step an interpretative team needs to approach is examining and comprehending what the text means. Lynnette Taylor and Stephanie Feyne-performing arts interpreters and teachers-write, "Our fundamental belief is that regardless of the form of the source message ... the MEANING takes precedence over everything else" (7).

In many instances, the meaning behind a piece of text is fairly transparent; at other times, it is elusive and difficult to grasp. As performing arts interpreters, the goal should be to present as clear a message to the targeted audience-as clear as the message the playwright and performers are conveying to their targeted audience. It is imperative "that the message be clear and succinct in its meaning" (Campbell 19); clarity, however, does not apply only semantically-in the case of a performing arts interpretation, it also applies to articulation, cross-cultural interpretation considerations, the relationship and interaction between the interpreters, and the interaction between themselves and the performers on stage (Cole). For example, throwing visual focus to the speaking actors, or leading the audience with an interpretation that is ahead of the spoken dialogue and then directing focus to the stage for a visual experience are all considerations and decisions the interpretative team must make. These decisions all require a trenchant translation on the part of the interpretive team-an artistic endeavor and scriptural analysis no different than that undertaken by a director, a costume designer, an actor, or a dramaturge. Penn emphasizes the artistic role of the translation process undertaken by the performing arts interpretation team:

I contend that the same freedoms afforded the great translators should be extended to theatrical interpreters working for Deaf audiences today. Interpreting a play is a large and complex undertaking and not to be taken lightly. It requires the freedom to make the boldest and clearest choices on behalf of the theatrical performance ... The artistic license afforded translators allows for freedoms as well as constraints. The challenge is to attain an equivalent resonance. Using the same framework, the interpreter must make a series of effective aesthetic choices. The interpreter has to weigh the liberty to convey the essence of the theatrical experience with the responsibility to the literal text. (Penn 12)

Only when interpretive theatre is viewed in the same light as other aspects of the artistic and creative process, can access to the theatre be fully compassed.

Logistical Considerations

The translation of script and production is not the only concern an interpretation team will have during a production. Another issue often faced is one regarding logistics (e.g., lighting, interpreter location, seating for patrons, etc.). Even though considerable sensitive planning and foreknowledge can be a part of the interpreted production, "[t]he presence of interpreters cannot help but throw production values out of whack" (Paterson 10); however, a qualified performing arts interpreter (or team) should be able to approach a production with a keener understanding of the theatre, which will allow them to work corroboratively with the other theatrical professionals in a way that allows for a successful and meaningful performance for all. Directors, actors and other theatricians have a considerable amount on their minds during the course of a production, and, often times, an interpreter is merely another added worry.

Nancy Kindelan, Associate Professor of Theatre at Northeastern University, discussed her experience working with the logistical issues of interpreters in her interview. During the interpreted performance of Machinal, she was concerned about the production values being "thrown" by the presence of an interpreter. These concerns extended to how an interpreter might affect the actors on stage, the hearing audience viewing the production, as well as how a poorly placed and lit interpreter would affect the Deaf or hard of hearing patrons. All of these concerns had to be juggled and balanced with very short notice, and ended up, unfortunately, with an interpreted production that was sub-optimal. Though having more time-or at least the foreknowledge that the production would have been interpreted-may have helped, she said, there still would have been logistical issues because the space is not well suited or flexible for sign language interpreters. In order to successfully include interpreters in the performance, she felt they would have had to be a part of the process from the very beginning-as early as the initial design stages with the production team (Personal Interview).

Although the interpreters and director were faced with some tough logistical considerations-in the case of Machinal-the performance still would have benefited greatly by having qualified and learned interpreters working with the production from the beginning. Interpreters who are able to offer sound artistic as well as pragmatic advice regarding the placement, lighting, and integration of interpreters into the performance will always make a production more accessible to all audience members, and will have a lesser likelihood of throwing the production values off course.

Qualification through Education

The steps the Massachusetts's Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) and VSA arts are currently taking towards addressing the issues of sign language interpreters in theatres are commendable. There is currently a task force working on developing a team of interpreters (both Deaf and hearing) to evaluate and give recognition where necessary to current performing arts interpreters in the state, as well as a movement to establish a referral system that will be run by VSA arts and supported by MCDHH, allowing theatres to access those interpreters deemed qualified by the screening panel (Clark). While these efforts address some of the main issues presented early, they do not address the issues of [1] furthering the education of the current performing arts interpreting body or [2] of providing introductory educational opportunities for those interpreters interested in entering to the performing arts interpreting field. Creating educational opportunities (e.g., workshops, retreats, classes, mentorship) is an important part of increasing and improving the qualified body of performing arts interpreters in the state of Massachusetts.

Educational opportunities will, ultimately, provide more qualified performing arts interpreters. On a surface level, this seems fairly transparent and lacking noteworthiness; however, it is imperative that the importance of a qualified interpreter be stressed. Often times the relationship between the interpretative team and the theatre providing the interpreters can be awkward at best-the theatre is typically not interested in making artistic concessions or monetary allowances to an interpretive team, and working with unwary and unqualified interpreters under time constraints can only make the experience more unpleasant and undesirable. A qualified and sensitive interpreter, on the other hand, can make the theatre's artistic team's experience more than amiable. Nancy Kindelan discusses her experience working with a qualified interpreter (who she characterized as a certain "creative spirit" behind her) in her recent production of Hedda Gabbler:

When I met with the interpreter for the first time, I sensed he was both sensitive and a clear thinker. He asked the right questions regarding both the play and the characters. [He has a] strong artistic temperament ... [and] ... became part of the process ... [he was a] joy to work with. His questions forced me to reconsider what it was I was trying to do-[to consider] how I could be clearer ... [he was] not just doing his job [going through the motions]. He became one of the characters-an extension of everyone on stage in just the right way ... He was an important part of the dynamic [of the production], not a mere "component" of the evening. I would think they [interpreters] would be better interpreters if they were a part of the dynamic; also, I would imagine that the Deaf audience would need the interpreter to be a part of the dynamic to get what they need out of the play; otherwise, it is just words. But I don't know, I'm not Deaf. I would think they are being cheated if they were given only words. Theatre is what is said and what is not said, what is obvious and what is subtle. (Personal Interview)

Kindelan was extremely impressed and taken with the sensitivity, understanding, and artistic nature of the interpreter she worked with on her production, considering him someone she wished to have in her theatre again. Positive experiences such as this one will only improve the number and quality of interpreted shows in the future; qualified interpreters are responsible for nurturing and developing the relationship necessary to create a dynamic which affords a successful interpretation and tangible access to a production.

Examining Qualification and Education in other Professions

The interpreting profession is not anomalous in its need for more qualified and better-trained professionals, or in its quest for a public acknowledgement of interpreting as a "profession." Examples drawn from both educational and medical professions are helpful when considering the current state of the interpreting field. The following two considerations, of both the teaching profession and the nursing profession, focus heavily on the benefit of having certified and competent professionals in the respective fields; "certification," however, should not merely represent a piece of paper or card that one has but rather the acknowledgment and recognition of one's qualifications and ability to perform the given task effectively and productively, which has most often been developed and fostered through educational, training, and mentorship opportunities.

Teachers are currently in a stage of "professionalization," seeking to create more accreditation and licensing standards to acknowledge those teachers who have the skills and qualifications to teach (Wise). The path they are taking is, in some stages, analogous to the one being trod by the interpreting profession. The teaching profession's quality assurance system contains a number of areas similar to those needed within the interpreting profession: advanced certification, licensing standards, professional development (called Professional Development Schools, or PDSs), and accreditation (Wise 18-19). These areas are all aimed at improving the quality of the teaching force, and creating a better image and recognition of the teacher as a professional. They have found that certified (i.e., recognizably qualified) teachers perform better in the classroom than uncertified teachers ("Improving" 7), and that "the U.S. public has a right to know who has prepared to teach and who has not" (Wise 21). Furthermore, many teachers themselves appreciate the qualification process, citing an increase of self-awareness and a noticeable change in student learning (McLean).

The nursing profession has found similar results regarding the performance of qualified (in this case, measured by "certification") nurses versus those who are unqualified. A report considering the findings of a study by the Nursing Credentialing Research Coalition consider the benefits of certification in the nursing profession:

Findings from the largest study ever conducted on United States and Canadian nurses who hold professional certification revealed that certification is a key tool in reducing health care errors ... the study found that certification has a dramatic impact on the personal, professional, and practice outcomes of certified nurses ... certified nurses also report more personal growth and enhanced job satisfaction ... certification also brought financial rewards ... [furthermore, another] study last year found that a vast majority of consumers (87%) would be more confident if they knew their nurse was a board certified specialist. ("Certified Nurses")

Just as the nursing and teaching professions-the professionals themselves and those people being served by the profession-benefit from having recognizably qualified professionals, so too will the performing arts interpreting field benefit from having qualified performing arts interpreters. While having a recognition and referral system is a necessary component to the betterment of the performing arts interpreting field, the provision of educational opportunities for interpreters and ASL consultants is of equal importance.

Educational Opportunities

It is not within the scope of this proposal to provide a detailed approach or outline for educational opportunities that should be made available to the interpreting community. Instead, recommendations will be made regarding where resources can be obtained, who can be contacted or consulted, which programs may serve as an adequate starting point or model for the development of educational possibilities here in Massachusetts, and what a successful educational venture may included.

I recommend that MCDHH and VSA arts work in correlation with the Northeastern University Interpreter Education Project (NUIEP) to develop and fund an educational venture for performing arts interpreters. The NUIEP-whose primary goal is to "develop and enhance interpreter resources" (NUIEP)-already has an extensive network of contacts and outreach resources, as well as experience organizing and creating other workshops, retreats, lectures and the like for numerous other interpreting educational ventures. NUIEP should be able to draw on the experience of those qualified interpreters and ASL consultants within the state with prior teaching and performance experience, performing arts interpreting ventures in other states, and previously developed curriculums. Furthermore, the survey currently being done within the state by MCDHH and VSA arts aimed at identifying the needs and preferences of the Deaf and hard of hearing theatrical patrons, will reap valuable information regarding the direction that should be taken within an educational venture. A well-directed task force created with those interpreters and ASL consultants who have pioneered and continue to represent the ideal of a qualified interpreting body should be able to draw upon their own experience, as well as teachings of others, to create a beneficial educational opportunity designed for the betterment of performing arts interpreters in the state.

Recommended Approach to Educational Opportunities

Educating performing arts interpreters is not a new idea-there have been opportunities presented in the past, and there are currently ongoing opportunities provided in other states and curriculums, which have been developed for this very purpose. I recommend that an educational venture be catered towards two different groups of attendees. The first are those interpreters and Deaf individuals interested in the theatrical field but, as of yet, have no (or very little) experience in the field; the goal of this educational experience is to familiarize them with the ins and outs of the theatrical interpreting process. The second group of attendees will include those individuals who have already experience and currently work in the field of performing arts interpreting; the educational material should be of a more advanced level, and assumes that the interpreters and ASL consultants are already quite knowledgeable about the process. The goal is to further their knowledge, broaden their expectations and improve the quality of their performances. These advanced sessions should address the following three areas of instruction:

Approaching educational opportunities in this manner will address the needs of both experienced and inexperienced performing arts interpreters and ASL consultants and will improve the general quality of the performances generated.


The step towards acknowledging the complex, difficult, and unique nature of a sign language interpreted production has already been undertaken by MCDHH and VSA arts. The work being done to provide better services and access are necessary and pertinent to the issues faced in the performing arts interpreting field. While a means for recognizing and identifying those interpreters who are currently qualified to work in the performing arts field will aid referral, it fails to address the issues of increasing the number of interpreters and ASL consultants within the performing arts interpreting field, and the issue of raising the performing arts interpreting experience to a higher and more artistic level that best serves the Deaf and hard of hearing patrons. MCDHH, VSA arts and the NUIEP, in correlation with one another, should work together to appropriate funding, assemble a task force, and create educational opportunities for those interpreters involved-or desiring involvement-in the performing arts interpreting field.


Works Cited

"Access to the Arts: A Right, Not a Privilege." SHHH Journal Nov./Dec. 1991.

Baily, Janet L. "Specialist Certificate: Performing Arts: An RID History Lesson." Views 15.5 (1998): 14.

Campbell, Kevin. "Performing Arts Interpreting." Views 15.5 (1998): 19.

"Certified Nurses Report Fewer Adverse Events." Urologic Nursing 20.6 (2000): 410.

Clark, Stephanie. Personal Interview. 2 November 2001.

Cokely, Dennis. "Editor's Comments." The Reflector Vol 2 Winter 1982.

Cole, Janis. Personal Interview. 6 November 2001.

Dezell, Maureen. "Boston Arts Spurt Slowed by Economic Jitters." The Boston Globe 9 November 2001: E1.

---. "NEA Panel Offers Few Clues on Future of Arts Funding." The Boston Globe 19 February 2000: D44.

"Improving the Quality of the Teaching Force: A Conversation with David C. Berliner." Educational Leadership 58.8 (2001): 6-10.

Kindelan, Nancy. "A View from the Bridge: How Administrators Perceive Theatre and GenEd Reform." Theatre Topics 11.1 (2001): 71-79.

---. Personal Interview. 23 October 2001.

MCDHH. "Communication Access Mini-Guide for Theaters and Other Cultural Organizations: To Enable Effective Communication with Deaf, Late Deafened and Hard of Hearing People." Boston: Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

McLean, Anne. "National Board Certification for Teachers: Background on the Certification Process." The Clearing House 73.1 (1999): 4-5.

"Obligations of Theatres and Lecture Halls Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990." Qtd. in "Communication Access Mini-Guide for Theaters and Other Cultural Organizations: To Enable Effective Communication with Deaf, Late Deafened and Hard of Hearing People." Boston: Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Northeastern University Interpreter Education Project (NUIEP). 6 December 2001.

Paterson, Rico. "Performing Arts Interpreting, from Shakespeare to Shamu: Confessions of a Theatrician," Views 15.5 (1998): 10-11.

Penn, Candace Broecker. "The Challenge of Theatrical Interpreting." Views 15.5 (1998): 12-15.

Taylor, Lynnette, and Stephanie Feyne. "Interpreting for Theatre." Views 15.5 (1998): 7.

United States. Americans with Disabilities Act. Washington: DOJ, 1990.

Wise, Arthur E. "Creating a High-Quality Teaching Force." Educational Leadership 58.4 (2000): 18-21.


Proper Citation of this Document

Timm, Damon. "Performing Arts Interpreting: Qualification, Recognition, and Betterment through Education." American Sign Language Interpreting Resources, 12 December 2001.