Graphic by Emily Mahoney
Musical theatre is an experience consisting of bright lights and intricate costumes in addition to the thrill and personal connection that comes with viewing a live performance. One sensation that may often be taken for granted, however, is the inexplicable presence of sound in these shows. Although one of the defining characteristics of live theatre may be the booming orchestra and captivating lyrics in the musical scores of these performances, this auditory experience is not the same for everyone. In order to make the show enjoyable for all audience members, ASL students took it upon themselves to interpret the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” on Jan. 18.
Junior ASL student Grace Eaton was among those interpreting. She said one of the most challenging aspects of preparing to sign was the disconnect between sentence structure and grammar between ASL and English, as well as the quantity of material to retain.
“The memorization is the same as an actor learning their lines, we’re not going to have our scripts just like they are and it’s a lot of lines,” Eaton said. “The grammar is the hardest part because [ASL] works in a different way than English does.”
Similarly, Junior Makayla Kubasiak’s experience with translating, or glossing, the script has been riddled with difficulties unique to the particular show itself in that it takes place in the early 20th century. Gloss is a written form of sign language that makes it easier for English speakers to convert English words and concepts into sign.
“One challenge with interpreting the play is glossing the Old English,” Kubasiak said. “First you have to define unknown words, then you can find the meaning of the lines, and finally find the signs that portray the same meaning. To prepare I continuously sign my parts over and over again. Then, when we go to rehearsals I listen to the characters speak and sign what I practiced [along with them].”
Eaton said that the act of providing ASL interpreting in the musical may enhance the experience not only for deaf audience members but for hearing ones as well.
“[Interpreting is] not even specifically for the Deaf audience, although they are obviously the target audience, I think that a lot of people find the interpreting interesting even if it wasn’t originally in the play,” Eaton said.
Eaton additionally describes what draws her to continue to learn and practice ASL as well as what encouraged her to apply her skills through this theatrical opportunity.
“I like to think of myself as a very dramatic person and I feel like sign language is a very dramatic language,” Eaton said. “I really like the acting aspect, I also love the idea of communicating with more people.”
Kubasiak shares this enthusiasm and finds purpose in the progress she makes as well as the people she impacts by interpreting.
“Signing the play allows those who are deaf or hard of hearing to still enjoy the show and get a similar experience [to other audience members],” Kubasiak said. “Interpreting can definitely be stressful at times but looking back and watching how far you’ve come from when you were first handed the script makes it all worth it.”
This story was originally published on Wolfpack on January 29, 2020.