I recall seeing a photo online a while back of Anthony, lead singer in Red Hot Chili Peppers, perform next to an American SignLanguage interpreter.
Social media went crazy with people desperate to know who the interpreter was – who actually now receives a fan following in her own right. Sassy, expressive and fully owning the song, she wasn’t just an interpreter, she was a performer.
And then here in Blighty last summer, I noticed the buzzing of excitement amongst my deaf festival goer friends as they discovered their favourite artists would be performing with a – gasp! – sign language interpreter beside them.
We’ve had interpreters at musicals and theatre productions for a while now but at gigs… And rock concerts…? What’s going on?
Well, may I introduce Performance Interpreting who work across the UK delivering high quality, artistic sign language interpreters at various events… specialising – obviously – in performing arts.
Headed by full time interpreter, Marie Pascall, the company was initially set up after seeing her friend refused Sign language access to a festival she wanted to attend. Recognising there was a huge gap in the music industry, Marie set to work encouraging venues and promoters to make their events accessible to the deaf community.
The aim of Perofrmance Interpreting is to open as many doors as possible to provide quality access and social inclusion. They also work with Deaf BSL Interpreters and Performers too.
And to ensure the company is led by its clients – so to speak – Performance Interpreting has recently set up a BSL steering group in conjunction with Attitude is Everything to ensure the deaf community are truly represented and have a real impact in accessible services going forward.
And it seems all of her hard work is beginning to pay off. I was delighted to discover that the company, which was only formed a mere 18 months ago has landed some very exciting agreements.
And I’m thrilled to tell you guys about one of them.
If you ever want to attend a show at Nottingham’s Motorpoint arena, you can request an interpreter on your preferred attending date and they will provide one, courtesy of Performance Interpreting.
They also have BSL interpretations as part of their core programme too! See their access page by clicking here.
This is a world away from my concert going days when interpreters were usually just your best hearing friend that you had dragged along to tell you what the band were talking about in between the songs…
This kind of news is nothing short of groundbreaking.
And I must stress that the calibre of interpreters used by Performance Interprters is outstanding.
Performance Interpreters actually invited two of Limping Chicken’s biggest rock music fans to attend a signed interpreted Limp Bizkit & Korn concert. And to say that they were impressed by the service is an understatement.
(See lovely William and Sammi below)
These guys, both deaf sign language users, are big on their music but had never attended a sign interpreted show before. I was curious… Would they enjoy it? Here’s what they had to say..
“The interpreter was fantastic, she really learnt all the words and interpret them excellent. She was clear, and did really well with some really fast songs which I don’t think I could do!”
Judging by the amount of preparation the interpreter, Susan Merrick, had to undertake before the show, I’m impressed and relieved that it all worked out. Because contrary to assumptions, concert interpreters don’t get given a band set list. At least not until 15 minutes before showtime – at the best of times!
For a band that performs 15-20 songs this means 20+ hours of study time for the interpreter – researching, learning, revising and translating lyrics. And knowing that theres no guarantee which song will be performed and possibly new ones premiered on the night, these are interpreters of a whole different league.
William and Sammi also mentioned that the interpreter did more than just sign the words…
“She matched with the music, and swearing too. She even added the instrument’s sounds and pitch, which is really useful.”
I saw a clip of Susan performing a song by Korn and I was mesmerised by how she depicted the sounds of the instruments. The staccato. The fluidity. The overlapping tones. They were all visible. And that was when I realised that Performance Intepreters really are opening doors – not just by providing access at concerts – but by delivering artistic translations of a high standard that actually do the songs justice.
I was fortunate enough to see a few other of their interpreters in action too and I can equally vouch for their artistic excellence. After seeing them I felt like saying “Yes, finally! Someone gets it!” Because they fuse the BSL content with the lyrical meaning and their body becomes a rhythmical tool.
They have the ability to introduce music to those who perhaps would usually turn away from it. And that’s powerful stuff.
That said. It is still early days and there are still improvements and adjustments to be made. The positioning of the interpreter at the concert isn’t ideal, and sadly nowhere near the stage…
“I would have liked to be in the crowd in standing area, and the interpreter possibly to stand by the stage as I like to see how they play their instruments.
Plus where we were in seating, we were at the back of the arena, just behind the standing, we had bit of trouble of seeing the band as there were some tall people which sort of blocking the view of stage. “
I noticed that the placement of interpreters seems to differ; on some occasions they’re on stage but more than often they’re not. Personally speaking I would like the interpreter as close to the performer as possible. Which is why we – the deaf concert goers – need to speak up and work with the venues.
One person in particular who has worked with and for the deaf community remarkably well is Stephen Chaston – the Access Manager for Motorpoint Arena.
Stephen helped Motorpoint Arena to win an Outstanding Attitudes Award and the arena has now been awarded a gold standard by Attitude is Everything who monitor accessiblity. They were recognised for their commitment to and excellent delivery of accessibly services.
Stephen’s aim is for as many Deaf British Sign Language Users to enjoy as many events as possible. So I am optimistic that the placement of interpreters could be easily resolved if discussions begin and more feedback is received.
The arena does have an access page on their website and details on their award from Attitude is Everything can be found here.
Performance Interpreters can be followed on social media and on their site to keep updated on the latest accessible shows. You can also find out about other accessible arenas near you too.
Check out these links:
Here is a BSL video about the service at Motorpoint Arena:
But please remember that any requests for interpreters must be sent to the arena 28 days before the date of the show and if you can – please always give feedback.
And if you want to attend an event but it isn’t sign language interpreted, why not drop Performance Interpreting an email and they will see if they can help.
Isn’t it wonderful to see so many new doors opening? Musicals, festivals, concerts, comedy, cabaret, dance…. what’s next?
And as somebody who loves to see fab-u-lous artistic deliveries of sign language, I know what I’ll be getting up to in 2017.
Strictly come dancing, sign language interpreted?! Hmm I don’t mind if I do ….
Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.
Rebecca-Anne Withey is an actress, sign singer and tutor of performing arts. A black country girl at heart, she now resides in Derby where she works in both performance art and holistic therapies. She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.
The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
Please note that the views of the writers are their own, and not necessarily the views of the Editor or site as a whole. Read our disclaimer here.
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