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For sign language interpreters, ‘Miracle Worker’ is not just a show

By Rich Copley, Lexington Herald-Leader
summarized by Caitlin Aurigemma, staff writer

As Donna Snyder and her colleague gather around the television to watch the movie “The Miracle Worker,” what looks like a typical movie day is in fact research for the Lexington Opera House presentation of the play The Miracle Worker.

Snyder who is an interpreter at Fayette County Public Schools in Kentucky is joined by colleagues Kimmie Curtis, staff interpreter for the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville, Tara Stevens, assistant professor of ASL and interpreter education at Eastern Kentucky University, and Jena White, a language consultant who is also happens to be deaf.

The purpose of these four colleagues gathering to watch the 1962 movie The Miracle Worker which tells the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan is for Snyder and the other interpreters to ask White about what she believes deaf audiences will need interpreted during the live performances.

The play and movie are inspired by the story of Helen Keller, the first deaf and blind person to achieve a Bachelor of Arts degree who later became an author, political activist. The play written by William Gibson takes place during her early childhood and how her teacher Annie Sullivan taught the young Helen how to communicate.

As Jena White tells reporter Rich Copley, “It’s very important because Helen Keller was deaf and blind. I’m just deaf, that’s it. She didn’t accept the fact that her family thought she couldn’t do anything. She used that as energy to move forward. She was a very successful woman because she knew that could do it, and she had those things that she need to move forward. Deaf people in the community need to see that, to know that I can do that as well. I can do anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re deaf or hearing” (Copley, Lexington Herald-Leader).

For Snyder and the rest of the interpreters, the fact that this play is so meaningful to the audience means their interpretations have to honor the original source. This means For Snyder and the others that interpreting with blank face will not do but rather they should be as theatrical as the actors on the stage to give the deaf audience the full experience of the play.

It was also important that the interpreters knew what needed to be interpreted in the play. As the play mostly focuses on the relationship between Keller and Sullivan, there are several moments that don’t require interpreting unlike in other plays.

Snyder and the others also stresses the importance of giving equal and fair representation to deaf audiences at events such as the play.

As White tells Copley, “I can’t hear that frustration, I can’t hear that, I can’t hear those different emotions. So I am here to help them understand from my perspective that you need to show those emotions and express those emotions, and I can be involved in the show in that manner, and deaf people can have that understanding of the story” (Copley, Lexington Herald-Leader).

Read the full story here.

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