Theater and live shows with accessibility for all

Theater and live shows with accessibility for all

Live shows, theater, music, or opera can include everyone, anywhere in the world.

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Sign language and heavy metal

A sign language interpreter’s translation of a heavy metal set at a music festival was dubbed as “amazing” after 700,000 watched her work on TikTok. Leicestershire in England hosted Download festival, a five-day rock festival, and the Scottish heavy metal band Alestorm was among the line-up, performing on the main stage. Although the group was the act, their sign language interpreter captured the attention of fans too for her impressive performance. 

The interpreter, captured on video near the crowd, was working at full speed, singing along to the music with gestures that many had likely not seen before. Should this be something out of the ordinary? Definitely not.

In recent years, sign language interpreters at festivals have become somewhat of a fan favorite themselves, with interpreters regularly winning praise online and going viral for their work. A work that has all to do with accessibility and fulfilling rights.

Imagine not only interpreters but if you could have a translation for any show in the world, in any language. Imagine traveling to Japan, dropping in last-minute at a musical performance and being able to understand it, or attending an opera like Madame Butterfly for the first time without having to read a recap online just to make sure you’ll be able to follow the story. Wherever you go to watch a show, it would be ideal to have guaranteed translation. 

The case of Rose Ayling-Ellis and sign language interpreters for deaf people

Rose was the first deaf contestant and winner of the contest Strictly Come Dancing, and then she took part in the UK’s first arena touring show that had a British Sign Language interpreter at every performance.

For each of the 33 shows of the Strictly Live UK tour, producers provided a registered interpreter who appeared on two large screens either side of the stage, giving deaf people the ability to enjoy the event sitting almost anywhere in the venues.

After winning the Strictly glitterball trophy, EastEnders actor Ayling-Ellis said she hoped her achievement would help with “breaking the barriers” for deaf people. Her appearance on the BBC One dancing competition helped increase awareness of the deaf community and the importance of sign language and accessibility in all contexts. 

Accessibility in live music can -and should- be a priority

We could divide two periods in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it changed many of the ways of socializing or doing things. Live public encounters turned inside events through our personal screens. This changed many of the rules and conditions regarding live performances, an industry traditionally reliant on physical proximity. All in all, it transcended class boundaries: everyone from a big hot band to an old university roommate who plays free jazz improv could stream live performances online for people to watch from home.  

Barriers to access -from venue layouts that don’t account for mobility aids to lack of accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing fans— have long prevented people with disabilities from enjoying live music. The boom in gig streaming means that some of these fans can finally enjoy accessible live performances from their favorite artists.

However, live-streamed performances solve only a handful of the inaccessibility issues coded into live music experiences. Music fans who are deaf or hard of hearing aren’t able to enjoy live streams unless they’re captioned or accompanied by a sign language interpreter. Concerts are definitely a comforting and exciting emotional outlet for people. But when looking a bit deeper, the deaf community, for example, is left out in most live streams.

The importance of understanding

Translation or interpretation are not only intended to provide a ‘practical’ support, the subtitles, for an audience that does not know the original language of the play. They have a much deeper role, very much related to rights and representation for all.

When translating a play into any language, of course there has to be a careful handle of the richness of nuances and meanings of the original text. We know a simple paraphrase of the original text, in fact, can cause an impoverishment of the linguistic and cultural richness of the translated play. The act of translation is first an act of interpretation: every linguistic and stylistic solution depends on how we interpret the text, and, in turn, the interpretation will lead to a correct choice. Translation can entail some changes and simplifications regarding the target language, while also trying to maintain the original meaning of the play. 

Imagine all this process but taking into consideration people who have disabilities, like not being able to see or hear. Add up to the translation work the different supports required to make a play, a movie, or any kind of show, enjoyable for anyone. This is what we need to work for.

This is only the tip of the iceberg on the topic of making live performances accessible to all people. Of course, decisions and actions are much needed. At #LST we work every day in translation and interpretation services, to be able to reach all without any distinction. It’s a very important mission. Hope to have you on board!

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