From Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Intense Preparation, Creativity Behind Theater ASL Interpreters


American Sign Language interpreters Sandi Smith (left) and Pamela Sue Conine work during a performance of “Newsies” at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The two played every character in the touring Broadway show.

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.

To read full article, click here.

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