Jina Porter, a hearing theatrical interpreter and a person of color, said that when there is a mismatch between the interpreting team and what is happening onstage, it can be jarring for deaf viewers. “I feel like you should look at the team and then look at the show and feel like they would all kind of be in the same place together,” she said.
Porter, who has interpreted for shows including “As You Like It” and “Birthday Candles” through Hands On, a nonprofit organization that provides theatrical interpreting services, said that ensuring more diversity in theatrical interpreting is also a matter of providing equal access and opportunity. “That’s just the way the world should be,” she said.
Patrice Creamer, a Black and Deaf theater artist who also works as a DASL, says that not every show requires a perfect racial match of actors and those making the show accessible. (She is currently a DASL for “The Lion King” but was not named in Wann’s lawsuit.)
But having that alignment, Creamer said through an interpreter, can help the viewer form a more immediate connection with a show. That was the case, she added, with her work in the 2000 Broadway revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” where she interpreted for the role of Mary Magdalene, played by Maya Days, who is Black.
“I played that character so that the Deaf audience could really take everything in with their eyes,” she said, “since their focus isn’t as much on what is happening on the stage, but on what’s happening with the interpreter.”
Having deaf people whose first language is ASL working in artistic sign language direction brings a whole other perspective — a deaf one — to a production, Michelle Banks, a Black actress, director and writer who is Deaf, said through an interpreter. DASLs can also have a say in hiring, and can choose interpreters who are a better fit for the characters, the culture represented and the chosen signing style, Banks added.