Signing in Broadway theaters

March 4, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
Taking in a Broadway show is an adventure for the senses with great costumes, dancing and singing.But for deaf audience members, not hearing the music means missing out on the plot.

Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson is here with a program that keeps them tuned in.

Imagine watching Hairspray, Chicago or Wicked and not being able to hear the music or dialogue. It completely changes the experience.

But some highly-trained people are making sure audiences do not miss a thing and because of what they're doing, a whole new crop of Broadway theater goers is emerging.

It's something many take for granted - Hearing a Broadway show.

Not this group of teens. You see they're deaf or suffer from varying levels of hearing loss. This is their reality.

"There's a feeling of isolation being left out everyone else gets it," said Lisa Carling at Theatre Development Group. "And I'm not."

But look near the front of the stage. That's where you'll find a trio of interpreters who using sign language conveys the story and like the cast on stage in Mary Poppins. They're always in character.

"We really come and work together and divide the roles and have rehearsal so we know when the important moments are happening on stage," said interpreter, Candace Penn.

More than 10,000 students have now taken part in the talking hands program put on by the Theatre Development Fund. They are the same folks who run the TKTS booth.

This is Christina's first Broadway experience.

"I watch the show more than the interpreters but when the characters start speaking I look at the interpreters to see what's going on," said Christina. "Then look at the dancing and acting which is fabulous."

The entire script is also loaded into a laptop and then scrolls along in this box throughout the performance.

"Sometimes you look back and forth and might miss something and checking a word on a caption box but you'll work it out," said interpreter, Lauren.

Gavin Lee, Bert in the show says it's hard to keep your eyes off the interpreters.

"I have such respect for people who have learned another language and it's not vocal language but signing so hard but helps so many," said actor Gavin Lee. "It's fantastic."

Ashley Brown agrees. She's Mary Poppins.

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for kinds to be able to experience live theatre because if it weren't for them they wouldn't be able to come," said actor Ashley Brown.

This is just part of this program.

Before the kids head to the theatre, a teaching artist first meets with students in their classrooms to get them up to speed on the show they'll being going to. The storyline and so forth so that they're better prepared once they arrive.