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Sign Language-Assisted Performance

February 16, 2007

If I were to have an alternate career in the performing arts and could pick anything regardless of my current skill set, the job I would pick would be that of sign language interpreter for live performances. The people who do this job, in my opinion, are the great unsung heroes of the profession. They learn an entire play all on their own (every single line of every single part) and then they get up on stage in front of the audience alongside the actual actors, and proceed to perform the entire play all on their own (every single line of every single part) in sign language.

The skills required to do this job boggle the mind. Not only do you need to be utterly fluent in signing, but you need to be a quick study, have a good memory for text, and possess incredible stamina.

Theatre companies in the U.S. don't run many sign language-assisted (ASL) performances because, they say, there isn't a whole lot of demand for them and they're incredibly expensive to mount. (One person I spoke to said that it costs his company somewhere in the region of $3000 to mount one ASL performance.) Some of the larger companies, like San Jose Rep, ACT, and Berkeley Rep do offer them on occasion though, like once a season. Interestingly enough, the productions that attract the most customers are musicals.

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