It’s 2015, and the light come up on a dark stage at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City. Two young women stand on opposite sides of an empty mirror frame. As one waves her arms in the air creating shapes to convey her curious thoughts, the other begins to sing, giving those signed ideas a musical voice.
This was the opening scene of a landmark, limited-run revival of the musical Spring Awakening, where d/Deaf* actors were given the spotlight and their hearing counterparts acted as their vocal shadows. This integration of hearing and d/Deaf performers is what Artistic Sign Language (ASL) interpreter Landon Krentz and his team hope to achieve with Theatre Interpreting Services (TIS), a Vancouver-based company that helps theatre organizations gain exposure to d/Deaf culture and make theatre more accessible for the city’s d/Deaf population.
However, TIS is not your average interpretation service—it’s the only d/Deaf-owned business of its kind in Canada. “It’s important to have a d/ Deaf person to represent the d/Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community because of our understanding of our cultural values and ASL aesthetics,” said Krentz—one of six interpreters in TIS—in an email interview with This.
TIS interpreters—some of whom are also hearing—are specialized for theatre, which means their work involves much more artistry than simple translation. Rather than having a hearing interpreter stand off to the side of the stage and interpret on the fly, TIS interpreters must develop and rehearse an ASL version of the script. On top of that, Krentz says they like to encourage inclusive practices that allow for more artistic interpretations for d/Deaf audiences such as shadow interpreting, a method in which they follow actors around while performing ASL simultaneously.
But there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to making theatre more accessible: most production companies usually don’t allocate budget for these deep-integration methods and often scramble to find interpreters for productions a month prior to performances, says Krentz.
“[Typically,] interpreters are expected to show up and disappear,” Krentz says. “This is not an authentic approach to adding artistic sign language stories on stage and often, d/Deaf people will notice a disconnect in synergy.”
To remedy this, the government offers funds through accessibility grants that can be used to bring interpreters in earlier in the production process, but Krentz said many theatre companies don’t know those funds are available.
“We have a social responsibility to people from our community to do this work and try to create these kind of important conversations within the Canadian theatre community,” said Krentz. “It is slowly on the rise.”
* This Magazine has stylized d/Deaf to be inclusive of all deafness on a spectrum