SELMA – We asked Heather Lemon of Vizual Voices about the American Sign Language interpretive services they offer during Selma Arts Center productions. She let us know how the group got started, who does the interpreting and what inspires them to take on the challenge of interpreting the live performances.
“Vizual Voices strives to make each performance entertaining for the deaf community, at the same time, inspire future ASL/interpreting students and educate the hearing community about the deaf culture’s beauty and richness it entails,” Lemon said.
Q: How did Vizual Voices get started?
A: Vizual Voices started with a combination of situations. The three main factors were that deaf friends wanted to enjoy musicals but interpreters weren’t animated enough to portray the musical aspects of the performance. Second, in the process of teaching my daughter Sydney to sign, I soon discovered that teaching her to sign using music was the best tool. She picked it up very quickly and performed by my side many times. With this I realized that an age group had been overlooked so I decided to create a youth performance team to teach Sign Language using children’s theater.
As a beginning interpreter it can be very hard to find hands-on training. Live theater is a great tool for beginning interpreters to get some experience being in front of people, move at a quick pace, practice facial expressions, as well as getting some time to actually look at a script to explore the many options of how to break down the English word to a visual language. Live theater also requires you to think quickly on your feet with situations that arise when actors improvise and add or delete lines during performances.
Q: Who are the interpreters? Is it a group of people?
A: Vizual Voices has interpreters, interns and youth performance teams. Interns and students are mixed in with our interpreter, depending on the subject matter of the production. For example, “Sweeney Todd” will just be two interpreters because of how demanding the music is and the content of the show. Selma Arts Center’s “High School Musical” coming up in January will consist of my youth performance team and then Selma’s “Little Mermaid” was a mixture of an intern, a student and me.
Q: Do you interpret just for musicals, or for anyone needing interpreting?
A: Vizual Voices’ strengths are with musicals. We do tend to have more requests for musicals on the whole, but we are not limited to them.
Q: Are you hired to do this? If other organizations want to hire you or needs these services, how can they contact you?
A: Yes, Vizual Voices is hired to do these shows. We have provided services to high schools and other production companies in Visalia and have enjoyed the partnership with the Selma Arts Center, which has quickly become a consistent residency for Vizual Voices. Contact myself at 300-7425 or email email@example.com. You can also find us on Facebook. Vizual Voices also does private lessons with youth and adults. Each student will perform in the upcoming production for that level at the time, if they are ready for that next step. Many of my young students have done very well in their college classes. Some have even challenged the level one class in college and have proven themselves very skilled for their age range!
Q: What’s the challenge in doing this work for a play since they’re usually fast-paced and there are numerous actors and parts to learn?
A: Each script is transcribed into ASL and highlighted according to which characters each interpreter/member is covering. We attend many of the rehearsals during the last few weeks prior to opening night. In addition, we also attend two to three of the live performances before our service dates. We desire to pull energy from our voice actors so that we can portray an accurate visualization of our characters thus we must learn about the production and become familiar with timing in which the production moves.
Q: How long has your group been working with the Selma Arts Center? How does it work? Do folks sit in a certain area of the audience?
A: Vizual Voices first partnered with The Selma Arts Center after Dominic Grijalva and I had a conversation regarding providing our services for the production of “Hunchback.” Since then, Vizual Voices has become a consistent service that The Selma Arts Center has desired to continue. This way, it’s consistent and the deaf community knows they are welcomed to enjoy performances here. Being a Selma native myself, this partnership has become very dear to my heart. Each production is different with staging so we always reserve an area for our deaf/hard-of-hear patrons. It would help if deaf community members could contact or email the Selma Arts Center to notify them of their attendance to ensure a section is big enough for all that desire to enjoy the show.
Q: Has anyone ever come up afterward to thank you for the interpreting? What’s been folks’ reaction to seeing you at work?
A: Many times patrons, whether deaf, ASL students or hard-of-hearing, have come up to us sharing their gratitude and excitement that we offer these services. Many have mentioned they watch us at first quite a bit to see how we translate what is going on audibly to visually, then realize we are a part of the whole picture and view it in that way.
Many may remember in the summer of 2017 when the news advertised a production of the “Wizard of Oz” in Visalia that would be performed completely in sign language. The lead actors in that production were all Vizual Voices’ students. I was one of the directors. We love our deaf community and the performing arts. We continue to look forward to every opportunity to educate, entertain and inspire both the deaf and hearing communities. Our desire is to always add another element to each and every performance we participate in and never to distract from the performance.