The cast of The Frog and Princess with their ASL shadows, 2015. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.
For every Children’s Series production there is a special performance date labeled “ASL,” but what does that even entail? At Orlando Shakes it means you are attending a performance with sign language interpreters, who shadow the actors on stage, creating a unique theater experience for young people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The result is a fun and educational event for everyone, including hearing audiences!
Mandy Longo is the assistant director of Florida Hands and Voices a nonprofit organization that works with children who are hard of hearing or deaf, their families, and the professionals who serve them. She is also the founder of Signing Shadows, who will join the cast of Magic Tree House: A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens on November 7 at 2:00 p.m. for a shadow interpreted performance. Marketing Intern Cassie Moorhead sat down with Mandy to learn more about her mission to provide the magic of theater to an underserved community.
Cassie Moorhead: How has sign language been used in the past in the theater?
Mandy Longo: Traditionally, theaters have used traditional interpreting for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Interpreters stand on each side of the stage and sign the dialogue. Imagine you are in a theater and you could see the actors movements in the middle of the stage, but in order to understand what they are saying you had to look to either side of the stage. You would be constantly looking back and forth trying to keep up. While you may understand the gist of what is going on, you miss a lot of the experience.
The cast of The Frog and The Princess and their ASL shadows sign autographs, 2015. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.
CM: How is shadow interpreting different?
ML: In shadow interpreting the interpreter and actor are one. We stand side by side the actors in all black clothing and become their characters. We learn their blocking, their facial expressions, body language, and everything. The audience members who are deaf or hard of hearing are given the full theatrical experience.
CM: Where did you get the idea for the Signing Shadows?
ML: There is a very famous theater in Los Angeles called the Deaf West, which was founded in 1991. They use shadow signing and are currently working on their first Broadway show, Spring Awakening. I recently saw it and was so inspired by the work they have done. It has given me such inspiration for this show. We have been working with the Shakes since Cinderella, which was four seasons ago. They are the only theater in the area to offer shadow interpreting.
CM: How does the process work of assigning interpreters to actors?
ML: I have a Facebook group for the Signing Shadows and I will post the show, the dates, and see what volunteers are interested and available. I am given the script ahead of time, but the first time I am introduced to the actors is during the “Meet and Greet.” During the read through I listen and observe the actors. I try to match them based on personality and appearance. We only have two male interpreters, so we are not always able to always match by gender.
CM: What is challenging about Magic Tree House: A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens?
ML: This show is a musical, which is always more challenging. We have to master the choreography and be in sync. There are around 15 musical numbers in the show. The synchronicity is the most challenging aspect of the show by far. Signing is similar to speaking where one word can have multiple meanings and signs. We rehearse separately and have to agree on which sign to use and make sure we are in sync with one another. This is our biggest show we have done so far, but it will be awesome.
Sophia Grilla in Shakespeare with Heart’s Merchant of Venice, 2014. Photo by Landon St. Gordon.
CM: Who are your volunteers?
ML: Most of our volunteers are interpreters for public schools or teachers. Our shadow signer for Tiny Tim, Sophia Grilla, is only 13 years old. She is so amazing and inspiring. Signing on to a show is a big commitment. We learn the entire show, so there are many rehearsals. We do not jump in and rehearse with the actors until later in the game where they know the show back and forth. We love it even though it involves so much time. It gives our hearts pleasure. The actors have to put in extra hours to teach us their blocking and whatnot, but they are always more than willing and never complain. The Shakes has been amazing, we always feel welcome.
CM: What are the next projects the Signing Shadows will be working on?
ML: We will be performing Elephant and Piggie’s “We’re in a Play!” on April 30, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. We wish more people knew about shadow interpreting and came to see the shows. The deaf and hard of hearing children are given a unique opportunity to socialize. They can meet other deaf and hard of hearing children from other schools and hopefully make new friends. We have schools from Osceola, Orange, Lake, and Seminole County attending the field trip performance.
Come and see the Signing Shadows for yourself! Florida Hands and Voices and Signing Shadows will appear in a special performance of Magic Tree House: A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens on November 7 at 2:00 p.m. There will be an additional shadow interpreted performance for schools groups on November 9 at 10:15 a.m., but general admission tickets can also be attained by the public. Tickets are available online or at the Box Office at (407) 447-1700 ext. 1.