While dancers stretched backstage and musicians warmed up, two performers ran through their lines as they prepared to tell a story with only their fingers.
A few minutes before the curtain rose to a packed house for the touring Broadway show “Newsies” at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Sandi Smith and Pamela Sue Conine walked out and stood in a small space next to the two front rows of seats on the left side of the stage illuminated by a dim spotlight.
Smith and Conine were not in playbills handed to theater-goers when “Newsies” visited Milwaukee this month, but the American Sign Language interpreters played every character — more than 30 — and performed every song.
Actually they used more than their fingers; their hands, arms and faces are also part of their performances since telling a story soundlessly requires a large vocabulary and facial expressions that convey accents and emotions.
Learning every line spoken and sung in a musical and deciding how to interpret the words and music is a complicated and detailed undertaking.
“A lot of humor doesn’t always translate,” said Conine, an associate professor and coordinator of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Interpreter Training Program.