Gretchen was born and raised in Indiana and spent time living in both Colorado and Virginia as well. She had a few minor exposures to Deaf culture and ASL as she grew up, a neighborhood friend, a couple she met at a job, and was always interested in learning to sign. She majored in music performance in college until deciding that her real passions were in teaching. While discussing plans to change majors, a friend mentioned she was doing well in a Deaf Education program at another school which Gretchen decided was “just like Education, but better” so she transferred immediately and became a Deaf Education major. Once she was introduced to Deaf culture and language it did not take long for Gretchen to find her niche, not in education, but interpreting. Before she had graduated she had the opportunity to be a shadow interpreter in a production of Children of a Lesser God, where she quickly realized that the best part of interpreting is the theatrical assignments. Gretchen is very grateful that her first job out of college gave her the opportunity to do all of her favorite things: interpreting, education, and performance.
Working daily in the educational field, Gretchen is an EIPA (4.4) certified interpreter. She has also been professionally trained as a performance interpreter through an excellent program in Nashville. Thus far, Gretchen’s favorite shows have been Children of a Lesser God, Seussical the Musical, Into the Woods, and Little Women. She has never forgotten the influence of those years in Colorado, however, and uses her love of rock climbing, Crossfit, and whitewater kayaking to work more adventurous assignments as well. Soon she hopes to be working both a Wilderness First Responder certification course as well as a Swift Water Rescue course. Her passion as an interpreter is to provide the accessibility needed for Deaf people to fall in love with the technical outdoors and the performance arts.
What inspired you to become an ASL interpreter?
I guess it wasn’t really my choice. I would never have become an interpreter if it had been up to me. I wanted to be a concert flutist and conductor, and then I wanted to teach. I kept chasing my dreams and God kept redirecting me. And I am so grateful that He did! I love my job so much. I have hard days and challenging assignments like everyone else, but I just can’t think of any other career that would give me the opportunity to do something I love, with a community I am passionate about, in so many different ways every day!
Can you share with us an interesting moment or event that happened to you on an interpreting job?
I don’t know… I’ve been picked on a lot. While interpreting for Joe White he went off on “Who’s on first” and as he began looked over and winked at me. That was fun! Bill Cosby, had a blast giving me a hard time- also super fun! But I think my craziest moment was also one of my biggest “aha” moments. In the performance program I was able to attend in Nashville, my teacher asked me to prepare a song from The Little Mermaid and to incorporate all of the actor’s movements from the Youtube video into my product. The plan was to play the video (as if it were an actual production) behind me as I interpreted the piece. The crazy part: I was also interpreting the piece in a mermaid costume, fin and all, with a beautiful red wig. I was SO uncomfortable. After watching the video however, it was absolutely shocking to see how dramatically copying the movements and the costume had worked together to achieve an exceptional level of visual equivalency. If more interpreters and theaters were willing to support and encourage this kind of visual equivalency (I like to call it accessibility) I am convinced that Deaf people would have the linguistic opportunity to fall in love with theatre. We aren’t there yet, so I’m not diving fin first into any productions yet, but that’s my goal (-:
What advice would you give aspiring ASL interpreters?
Don’t tie your ego to your product. This job is never about you. The Deaf community deserves better and so do you!
I have seen so many interpreters fall into the unfortunately accepted folly of tying their ego to their product. If I can’t criticize your product without criticizing you we have problems. The problems are these: first that interpreters lose the ability to accept feedback from co-workers, teams, and clients; second, interpreters become less willing to match their product to the client’s preference as it (that preference) moves further from their comfort zone, and third, they begin to “play the game”. Here are some examples… . If I can’t take feedback, be grateful for it, take it home and analyze it without it affecting how I feel about myself as a person, then my client isn’t my focus- my ego is. It doesn’t work. If I get a request to do my favorite musical and I can’t WAIT to go crazy with the ASL but the client requested SEE, then my preferences become invalid immediately. Better to pass the job to another interpreter than take the job, ignore the request, and not provide access. And lastly, what it means to “play the game”… If I can’t meet or watch another interpreter without immediately trying to figure out if I am the better terp, then my client isn’t my focus- its my ego.
Interpreting is a team sport. We work together with our client and our team to gain the greatest achievable product and accessibility in any given situation. That means using signs that we hate when the client prefers them, it means being patient and throwing signs to our less experienced team without judgment, it means seeing feedback as an awesome opportunity to grow and learn- independent of who it comes from (or, sometimes, how it is given). I recently had the opportunity to work alongside an amazingly varied group of interpreters. Some interpreters were still in their ITPs and some of these terps had been around for decades and I learned just as much or more from the newbies. The environment was encouraging, client-oriented, teaming. That’s how it should be. So as an aspiring interpreter, my best advice is to be the best team you can be, to LOVE feedback, to put your client first always, tie your ego to your character instead of your product, and know that some of us old terps get really excited about working with you!