Chicago-based interpreting service and instruction group Deaf Communication by Innovation puts it well: good performing arts “interpreters do not simply translate words into sign. They have the expertise to share with a Deaf audience the subtleties of a variety of works from Shakespeare to contemporary and from musical to comedy.”
Performance interpreting can apply to many everyday interpreting situations beyond a theatre: concerts, assemblies, rallies, festivals, memorials, workshops, conferences and more. Interpreting a performance requires the flexibility to go wherever a speaker may take things. The interpreter may find themselves interpreting film clips, training videos, skits, music or poetry.
Performance interpreters must be able to both quickly interpret a speaker or performer’s words, as well as accept the challenges and nerves of interpreting in front of large groups of people.
Doing research prior to interpreting a performance can only help — Research the performer, and the kind of work that they do. Familiarize yourself with their style — do they follow a set script? Research where you the interpreter will be located, what kind of lighting is available and other things that will make you more comfortable with the space where you will be interpreting.
William Woods University ASL Interpretation Studies students interested in specializing in performance interpreting can talk to their professors and mentors about the many different ways they can get involved.
Future performing arts interpreters are encouraged to always practice. You can put on a movie and start interpreting along with the script, create a playlist of songs you know, or better yet don’t know, and interpret with the lyrics. Even the most experienced ASL interpreters never stop mastering their craft.