The Shocking Truth About ASL Interpreting

ASL interpreting is an amazing thing.  

If you've ever seen it done you have to admit it's pretty awesome (I can force you to if necessary).

It doesn't hurt that American Sign Language is the coolest language ever.

Just how do the Deaf enjoy the Arts? How can ASL interpreting really help them participate? Read to find more about Deaf culture.

There's much more to ASL interpreting than there is to merely translating a spoken language.

It'll take a while to break it all down, so let me show you a question a reader asked in the last Shocking Truth About ASL post.

Short answer:  Yes they do enjoy the arts.

Snarky (not really) answer:  Do you enjoy the arts?  Some do, some don't, it's just a personal preference

Detailed answer:  Wait a tick.  You just said you're going to talk about ASL interpreting, not about Deaf people enjoying the ballet.  Not that that's not a cool question...

Just chill for a minute.

Don't tell me to chill, I chill you!

What movie is that from?

They're connected.

Tweet: How do the Deaf enjoy the theatre?


The Theatre, the theatre, what happened to the theatre?

There are a few ways for people that are Deaf to enjoy the theater.

  1. Just watch it like the rest of the hearing world.
  2. Go on days they have special captioning.  Some theaters always provide this service, and some only have it during specific show times.
  3. ASL interpreters

I was an interpreter at a local high school and the Deaf students in our valley were scheduled to go to The Jungle Book that SOU was producing.  They asked me and another interpreter to interpret the show.

It was a fun theater-in-the-round, black box show.  There was a small dynamic cast.

They sent us the script.  We read through it several times, working out portions that were more complicated or tricky.  We worked out sign names for each character and made sure the signs we were using were the same for other words.

I know what you're thinking. Isn't there just one sign for the same word?

Yes and no.  You know how there are different accents in America?  And how people say things differently from region to region?  For instance, you guys, yous guys, y'all, or you all.  It's the same in sign.  There are different dialects and regional signs.  I grew up in Houston and she grew up in California.  We needed to make sure our signs were the ones used predominately in Oregon.  Computer has several different signs depending on region.  Not that we signed computer in the Jungle Book, but you get my point.

We went to a reading and then we practiced at a rehearsal.  Oh heavens, it was a lot of fun.  I always wanted to be in a play, but was always too terrified to actually audition.  I had so much fun!  We stood to the side of the stage, out of the actors' way, but so that the audience could watch them and see us at the same time.

Theaters all over the US have interpreters for the Deaf to use.

There are a few shows with interpreters that follow the actors around.  They'll be dressed in black and signing behind/beside the actor.  They follow them around the stage and work along side them.

What's even cooler is there is Deaf Theater!  Deaf people act too!  Marlee Matlin for example.  I know there are many other Deaf actors!

Deaf Theater isn't as prevalent as regular theater, obviously, but it's pretty awesome.  A whole play done in ASL by Deaf, H/H, and hearing actors. I would love to have the opportunity to see one live.

Deaf West Theatre was founded in 1991 in the LA area. They have Deaf and hearing in their cast.  They dance, sing, and have an orchestra.  Get tickets if you're in the area!




I'm sure you have heard about the terp (that's slang for interpreter - now you're as cool as we are) that did the Wu Tang and Phish concert.

Holly Maniatty is awesome.  I read several interviews that she gave and completely agree with her process.  She studies everything about the people she interprets for. Region, political affiliation, religious views, history, personal preferences, etc.  Everything.  She probably knows more about them than their fans.  She has to do this to know the true meaning of their message to be able to impart that to the Deaf in audience.  I personally don't know how she understands a word Wu Tang says.  I cannot.

 Photo courtesy: Peter Lee



Now, if a Deaf person wants to attend the ballet they most likely won't need an interpreter.  All the ballets I have been to have not had any speaking.   Some people say that they can feel the vibrations of the music, but in ballets there are lots of high notes that many Deaf would probably not hear (remember there are varying levels of deafness) and perhaps not as many vibrations.  Plus you can't really rely on vibrations for constant sound in this setting, there's just too many variables.

Those things aren't needed for them to enjoy a ballet.  There's beautiful movement and rhythm in ballet.  The light stepping across the stage, the turns, jumps, leaps.  The change in pace, direction, and the emotion felt through the movements are what we all are watching.  Deaf are more attuned to these subtle differences in movement and rhythm.  Some may not enjoy it, but then some hearing people don't either.



I have a few VHS tape - so old school, I know - of a comedian, Mary Beth Miller.  She is pretty dang funny.  There are lots of Deaf comedians and performers.  They are mega talented.


Story of when she snuck some peanut butter and started choking on it. 



I also have a VHS tape of Bonnie Kraft, a CODA, who tells of her life growing up as a CODA through sign.  Tomorrow Dad Will Still Be Deaf.  The Deaf love to tell a good story.  They seem to always be sharing a story.  They are vivid, engaging, and often hilarious.  There is so much you can do with ASL that you just can't with spoken languages.

I also have a few tapes (yes, I know it's time to upgrade to DVDs) of stories.  I have Rumpelstiltskin and The Black Cat.  I love the guy that signs The Black Cat (E.A.Poe).



Surprise, there are videos of ASL Poetry.

Talk about something beautiful.  I don't have my copy any more, so I have been scouring the internet to find clips of some of my favorites.  I found one video that showcased some of the ones I remember from the video.  They are poems by Clayton Valli performed by several signers.


The students in this video talk about some of the cool things about ASL poetry that you cannot do in written poetry.  You can make images with your signs and not even use real signs to convey your image, your message.  Classifiers are used often in ASL, but in poetry it's a ho' notha level! (where's that from?)  You can sign two different things at the same time, as the woman does in the second poem.  You can't do that in English.


Here's a Deaf poetry night at a club in D.C.  They are songs that they're signing to (and they're Deaf), but they've made them poetic.  They each do a fabulous job.  Watch it with and without the sound, it's a completely different experience.

The Deaf can and do enjoy the arts in all sorts of ways.  Many enjoy the arts and excel at performing.  With ASL you can convey deep emotions, irony, sarcasm, comedy, layers, characteristics, and all that you can find in any performance.

If you have a question you'd like to ask, please do!  You may even get a whole post dedicated to you!

Tweet: Can Deaf enjoy the arts?

Tweet: ASL really is the coolest language!