‘Songs Tell a Story’: Deaf Theater Lovers Welcome Musicals in Auslan

Key Point
  • A growing number of theater performances are using Auslan to welcome the deaf.
  • Auslan is a form of visual communication used by over 16,000 people nationwide.
  • According to insiders, the entertainment industry still has a long way to go in increasing inclusion.
The group of viewers closest to the stage did not applaud when the Moulin Rouge musical cast closed out the first act show-stopper at its recent Sydney performance.
Instead, the audience stretched out their arms and spread their palms at the actors to give Auslan’s applause.
October’s performance is one example of an arts department trying to welcome deaf audiences with Auslan.

“10 to 15 years ago, deaf people had to find a production company to arrange and pay for their own interpreter, but that’s changed now,” says interpreter Brendan McQuigin. told AAP.

Auslan, or Australian Sign Language, is a form of visual communication used by over 16,000 members of the Deaf community nationwide.
It’s routinely featured in Leaders’ COVID-19 press conferences and natural disaster briefings, but many are unfamiliar with its use outside of emergencies.
A performance by an Australian interpretation of the Moulin Rouge! In the musical, Mr. McKiggin and his colleague Rosemary Profilio translated several characters at once, switching personalities from vulgar duke to boyish protagonist.
As singers moved between melody and harmony, they transitioned from complementary symbols to synchronized symbols.

Ed Wightman, associate director of the Moulin Rouge, said the duo maintained an extraordinary synergy with the stage performers and succeeded in “physically embodying the musical”.

Preparing for the German premiere of the Moulin Rouge.

A performance by an Australian interpretation of the Moulin Rouge! In musicals, an interpreter translates multiple characters at once, sauce: AAP / Thomas Bunyer/DPA

Auslan’s interpreter was on stage during the dance numbers, but translated the musical’s lyrics, dialogue, context and emotion into sign language for the remaining three hours of the performance.

Kim Curtus, a deaf theater lover, traveled 400 kilometers from her home in Tamworth to Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, to see an interpreted show.
“We haven’t had a show or a theater for four years because of COVID. So when I saw Moulin Rouge running, I knew I had to get on a plane and see it,” she said. told AAP.
She could have watched the show without an interpreter, but Auslan says it enhanced the experience for her and 80 other deaf audience members.
“When you go to the theater, you can feel the vibration and hear the actors sing and get the gist of the story,” she says.

“But when you watch it without an interpreter, you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t get that connection. The song has a story, so it’s amazing to come see.”

In the months leading up to the performance, the interpreter peruses the script and audio, adjusts the signs during the rehearsal process, and consults with colleagues at Auslan Stage Left, who provide interpretation for the arts department for accessibility for the deaf. Did.
“It’s about equivalence. We have to make sure whatever we’re producing matches what’s going on on stage,” says McQuiggin.

“We are not performance add-ons to performance. We are linguistic experts who bring language to audiences who may otherwise not have access to what they are passionate about.”

two separate languages

Auslan often cannot be translated directly into English. Its word order is less fixed than in spoken language, and physical expressions such as frowning and raising are essential to the meaning of a sentence.
“Many auditory audiences expect symbols to have and not have matching words.
An alternative accessibility option for the deaf is closed captioning, but Auslan Stage Left deaf consultant Dion Galea says sign language is more dynamic and helps audiences form a stronger bond with the art. .
“Our language, Auslan, is a place where we can equally identify meaning, tone and surrounding context, rather than following English grammar,” he says.
The performing arts department has made strides in promoting inclusion.
Other major productions such as Melbourne’s Hairspray, Sydney’s Hamilton and Perth’s Frozen all have shows featuring sign language.
But most of the time, with only one or two interpreted performances per season, the community wants more.
“Of course, deaf people using Auslan are very visual and love the live event experience,” says Melissa Smith of Auslan Stage Left.
In some cases, cost can be a big barrier. Especially in smaller productions that run with very thin margins.

Also, venues may not consider access to Auslan until someone asks.

Even when entertainment companies retroactively add interpreters, there are often very few tickets left for Auslan users by the time the ads run.
“There is still some work to be done in the entertainment industry, and access should be carefully considered early in production rather than an afterthought,” says Smith.
Internationally, theaters are taking a more integrated approach to signed performances.
In 2015, Deaf West brought the revival of Spring Awakening to Broadway. It features deaf leads shadowing deaf actors who sing and speak for them.
Disney’s 2018 interpretation of The Hunchback featured a deaf person playing Quasimodo in American Sign Language at Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theater.
By incorporating sign language into both musicals, the companies have overcome the problems associated with traditional interpreting services.
Deaf people didn’t have to go back and forth between an interpreter and the stage and could sit anywhere in the auditorium, not just where they could see the sign language.
However, we have yet to see shadowing or deaf actors in the same way in a major Australian musical.
“I’m looking forward to seeing deaf people appear in different roles and all types of performances, not just as deaf people but as real characters,” says Smith.
Meanwhile, Moulin Rouge! The musical will collaborate with Auslan Stage Left on future shows in Brisbane and Perth.
The production company is also planning performances with audio descriptions for the visually impaired.

“The world and art are for everyone, and it’s really important that we do everything we can to live by this,” says Wightman.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/a-story-in-the-song-how-bringing-musicals-to-the-deaf-community/9qcv32cgl ‘Songs Tell a Story’: Deaf Theater Lovers Welcome Musicals in Auslan

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