[NOTE: The following discussion focuses on technical aspects of interpreting on stage using TerpTheatre's shadow interpreting environment as an example. Techniques and requirements may differ in other types of theatre interpreting.]
Shadow interpreting on stage places the sign language interpreter within the acting space of a play, musical, opera or other performance piece. TerpTheatre most often uses two interpreters to shadow the entire cast. The interpreters move on stage to position themselves near the location of a single actor – or group of actors. As the focal point of the action on stage shifts, so do the interpreters. As they move across the stage, they may enter and exit with other characters, and interact with them on occasion. Some shows call for interpreters to dance, participate in crowd scenes, move set pieces and take on other actor-like qualities. Interpreters may shadow any number of performances in a show's run – from just one, to all of them.
Interpreters meet with the director and others early in the process to understand the artistic vision of the production team. The rehearsal process combines physical work with the process of translating the script or libretto into sign language and then memorizing these translated lines. Script analysis and observation of early rehearsals helps the interpreters determine character division. An analysis of the movement (or "blocking") in each scene determines the placement and movement pattern of the interpreters as they shadow their characters.
FROM REHEARSAL TO PERFORMANCE
From Rehearsal to Performance
Effective shadow interpreting requires a balance of book and stage work. Interpreters should attend regular rehearsals with actors to effectively strategize and memorize blocking, and to develop natural working relationships with the cast. This includes exploration into the relationship between the interpreters and individual characters, and how these relationships result in moments of interaction between actor and counterpart.
Below: Actors and others discuss working with shadow interpreters on stage. [ CC available. ]
To enhance the effect that the interpreters "belong" on stage, they are costumed appropriate to the production. Most costumers develop a single, basic costume of a neutral design for interpreters to wear throughout the performance. Some productions suggest the need for additional costume elements or specialized costume changes for interpreters. In a production of The Rocky Horror Show, for example, TerpTheatre's interpreters began the performance costumed similarly to the characters of Brad and Janet, and ended the show in the transvestite-inspired garb of Frankenfurter and the other aliens in the show.
Because the goal of shadowing is to bring the interpreter close to an actor (or group of actors), special lighting may not be required. Some situations call for interpreters to be positioned away from the actors. In some lighting designs, this may require additional lighting in these limited cases. Since theatre lighting has the potential to wash-out the facial features that are critical to signed languages, interpreters must be skilled in basic theatre make-up techniques.
Optimal seating for Deaf audience members will vary based on the set design, architecture of the theatre's house, and interpreter blocking. In general, shadowed performances do not require special seating sections for Deaf patrons. The interpreters can be seen from most seats with good "sight lines" – as long as the distance is close enough to read the signs of the interpreters.
Interpreting on stage requires a unique combination of technical and creative skills. Part preparation – part performance, this specialty requires a number of important traits:
While stage work is electrifying, theatre interpreters must always remain an ensemble member. Ultimately, the character originates with the actor. The interpreter feeds off the actor's impulse – even rides on it for a while – but, never seeks to replace it. It's called "shadowing" – not "over-shadowing".