Sum Theatre bringing ASL interpreters together for hands-on training

“Going to see theatre meant either sitting there, struggling through without hearing the dialogue or reading the script in advance, which ruined the surprise.”

A night out at the theatre has always been a tricky one for Chris Dodd. He is Deaf and has always had to adapt when taking in a performance.

Deaf actor Chris Dodd says having theatre trained ASL interpreters has changed the way he experiences live performance. (Jade Dodd)

“Even in university as a drama student, I had mandatory plays I needed to see for my studies,” says Dodd. “I couldn’t take a script into a dark theatre so that meant trying to remember parts of the dialogue as they were happening from memory.”

Luckily, things are beginning to change. More and more theatre companies are including audio description, open captioning, tactile tours and ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation into their productions. Sum Theatre was one of the first companies in the province to make on-site interpreters part of each show during Theatre in the Park 2018.

Sum Theatre is continuing to lead the charge with a new workshop for ASL interpreters this weekend. Thanks to funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, Sum is bringing ASL interpreters from all over Saskatchewan for this specialized theatre training free of charge.

“We are all about community building. We want everyone to come to our shows and feel welcome,” says Sum Theatre’s Heather Morrison. “This workshop will help interpreters enhance the experience for the audience by increasing their ability to use theatrical language when interpreting performances. It’s really gratifying when you meet people in the audience and they tell you this is their first performance because you made it accessible. It’s also a reminder that accessibility has been overlooked for too long.”

“It’s really gratifying when you meet people in the audience and they tell you this is their first performance because you made it accessible.”

ASL Interpreter Rosalie Wishlow made Sum Theatre’s Theatre in the Park more accessible in 2018. (Ehjae Chan)

Good interpretation of theatre is very different from the average assignment. Interpreters need to get the script in advance and going through it carefully to capture the energy and emotion of the play. Theatre interpreters spend upwards of 60 hours in rehearsals to observe the nuances of the performance and practise conveying it before it hits the stage. Dodd says when it’s done well, good interpretation has a huge impact.

“It gets the message across concisely without losing the meaning and at the same time, captures the spirit of the actor speaking the line.”

For Sum Theatre, this workshop continues on with its work to make performances that can be enjoyed by the entire community and Dodd appreciates this ground-breaking work.

“I hope this increased access leads to more people who are Deaf falling in love with the theatre.” He says,”Theatre is for everyone and involving Deaf audiences makes for a good community, everyone benefits.”

For more information on the ASL Interpreter Workshop follow this link.