Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Signed Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0500.  Sunday, 6 June 1994.
(1)     From:   Peter Novak <PNOVAK@SCU.BITNET>
        Date:   Saturday, 04 Jun 1994 16:37:17 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0485  Qs: Deaf Shakespeare
(2)     From:   Pete Guither <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
        Date:   Sunday, 05 Jun 1994 14:59:17 CDT
        Subj:   Re- Signed Shakespeare
From:           Peter Novak <PNOVAK@SCU.BITNET>
Date:           Saturday, 04 Jun 1994 16:37:17 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 5.0485  Qs: Deaf Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0485  Qs: Deaf Shakespeare
Dave Evett,
Unfortunately, your graduate student is correct that there are very few
productions of Shakespeare in ASL. The reasons are many. The National theatre
of the Deaf recently performed what we might call a "spinoff" of *Hamlet*
entitled *Ophelia* which was, I believe, produced in tandem with the Pilobolus
Dance Company. I did not see it but have read favorable reviews. In the entire
25 year history of NTD, they have never performed a Shakespearean play, perhaps
because of the difficulties of translating an oral/aural language into a
visual/gestural one. However, realize that 90% of the National Theatre of the
Deaf's audience is hearing and not all of their plays are performed in ASL.
Repertory companies usually hire interpreters to interpret a play during a
season, but the task of interpreting Shakespeare is formidable. Many times,
interpreters will attempt to listen to the actors to gain some understanding of
the performance rather than from an understanding of the text itself.
Interpreters are paid very little and lack the time and resources to do justice
to the plays. However, there are some examples of theatres incorporating Deaf
actors and some ASL into plays. In the mid-1980's at the La Jolla Playhouse, a
production of *The Tempest* starred Howie Seago (a well-known Deaf actor) as
Caliban. Last summer, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival (I believe??) produced
Pericles with poet/actor Peter Cook in the title role.
The National Technical Institute of the Deaf in Rochester, NY as well as
Gallaudet University in D.C. have also produced Shakespeare by Deaf actors and
for Deaf audiences. They will have specifics of their seasons.
I have done some interpreting/translating of Shakespeare and would be very
interested in discussing this with your student. The creative possibilities and
inherent problems of the process yield a fascinating result. Let me know if he
would like a videotape of ASL version of a scene from *The Tempest*. I think he
would like it very much.
Peter J Novak

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Santa Clara University
From:           Pete Guither <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Date:           Sunday, 05 Jun 1994 14:59:17 CDT
Subject:        Re- Signed Shakespeare
The 1993 Illinois Shakespeare Festival featured a production of Pericles with a
deaf actor in the lead role.  The concept blended with the fact that Pericles
is a traveller, a stranger in strange lands with all sorts of cultural
Peter Cook, a deaf Chicago-based actor, played the title role and signed his
entire performance.  Equity actress Margo Buchanan played Gower, and this role
was expanded so that she was on stage almost the entire time as
observer/narrator/chorus, and she spoke Pericles' line as Peter signed them.
(so us sign-impaired audience members could understand)  Sometimes she blended
in the background and other times became part of the action (as when Pericles
is washed up on shore and rescued by the fishermen, Gower became a rustic
fisherman who happened to know Pericles' "language" and could interpret for the
Characters in Pericles' family and from his homeland both signed and spoke when
communicating with Pericles.
The production was directed by Doug Finlayson who has some experience in
regular signed and shadow signed Shakespeare performance.
Peter Cook spent considerable time developing the signing for the role, using a
combination of American Sign Language, English Signing and other sources to
translate the poetry of the language into a poetry of movement.  It was quite
beautiful.  He even used a couple of Russian signs when it was necessary to
display subtle effects.
The effect of the production was quite remarkable and very well received.
One point of interest.  During rehearsal, before Peter was off book, there was
a problem having him sign with a book in his hands, so we got an opaque
projector and projected the script on a screen with the Assistant Stage Manager
moving it along (sort of like a teleprompter).
We also did a couple of performances for hearing-impaired audiences with the
remainder of the lines shadow-signed (rehearsed interpreters in dark clothing
on stage following the action and signing to the audience.
There should be some more about this production in an upcoming edition of the
Shakespeare Bulletin.
Pete Guither, General Manager
Illinois State Theatre
Illinois Shakespeare Festival

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.