Creating a collaborative environment for Deaf artists, for the creators involved in a production . . . with a chance to learn more about the Deaf community, with a chance to be exposed to Deaf culture, to learn some basic ASL . . . we invited our co-production partner Theatre Passe Muraille, and their staff as well as any Cahoots artists to come together to learn some basic ASL101 and learn about Deaf culture. That, I think, is a really important starting place because you can’t expect to do this work and not allow yourselves to understand the ‘why’ behind it. So, being able to come together, Deaf, hearing artists, designers, managers all together in a room and experience the same thing and really understand the ‘why’ behind it is really very important.
Kate Ann Vandermeer
General Manager, Cahoots Theatre
Interview January 28, 2016
When the General Manager and the Artistic Director are committed to making access an ongoing part of the theatre experience, a meaningful shift will begin at the outset of the production process . You will want to meet with your entire staff to ensure that they are all part of this commitment from the beginning of your journey.
The very first step should be to hire a Deaf Community Consultant so that you can make informed decisions as you move forward. The very next step is to hire consistent ASL interpreters for meetings and for the production, and then to provide Deaf Culture training and introductory ASL to lay the groundwork for moving forward together. Deaf community input right from inception of your project will make your production a rich, authentic portrayal of what it means to be Deaf.
Interview with Kate Ann Vandermeer, General Manager, Cahoots Theatre
Interview with Marjorie Chan, Artistic Director, Cahoots Theatre
Deaf Community Consultant
The Deaf Community Consultant will work as a team member with the company, providing consultancy services regarding the Deaf community, during the lead-up to and throughout the duration of, the production. The aim is to create an accessible, equitable, and supportive environment for Deaf Artists and the Deaf community.
The Deaf Community Consultant should be engaged prior to the audition process so that he or she can support you through the process of selecting Deaf cast and/or crew, hiring interpreters and creating accessible audition postings and promotions and audition environment.
Criteria for a skilled Deaf Community consultant includes:
- someone Deaf, experienced in theatre etiquette and theatre hierarchy
- fluency in ASL, preferably someone who grew up in a provincial school for Deaf students and/or comes from a Deaf family, has a background in ASL linguistics, ASL literature, ASL theatre and
- is well connected within the Deaf community.
The role of the Deaf community consultant is extremely important not only for insights and collective discussion with your company during pre-production, script selection, development, casting, and promotion but also later during rehearsals in the rehearsal hall and tech/previews in the theatre venue.
Cross-cultural issues naturally arise, and when recognized, they can easily be resolved. However, these may not be dealt with if there is no one in the room to recognize them and to mediate by explaining the difference in the cultures between Deaf and hearing theatre artists, management or crew. It could be anything from how best to get an individual’s attention, placement of interpreters, theatre terminology that is not known, to different expectations or styles of communication in a rehearsal hall.
In an ideal scenario, cross-cultural issues are best dealt with by a Deaf and hearing consultant pair who provide cross-cultural consultation and can mediate issues as they arise, working sensitively with theatre management and crew within the theatre hierarchy. Leaders of the Deaf community can suggest skilled Deaf and hearing Cross-Cultural Consultants who are engaged in the Deaf community.
Marjorie Chan, Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre Company, Toronto, met Adam Pottle, deaf playwright from Saskatoon in a chance meeting in the back of a conference room in 2013. This led to her reading of his provocative play, ULTRASOUND and its production by Cahoots Theatre on the mainstage of Theatre Passe Muraille in the spring of 2016. This script and their chance meeting provided the opportunity for a community rarely represented in theatre to be reflected on the mainstage. Adam describes himself as having a sensorineural hearing loss, learning some ASL later in life. Cahoots used the term “d” deaf in all promotion related to Adam to respect his wish. In contrast to our explanation of “Deaf” in the module, “Cultural Context”, Adam calls himself lower case “deaf” identifying as a person with hearing loss but not yet, or not necessarily a member of the Deaf community. As such, the play represents identity issues that are artistically meaningful to him as an individual navigating and oscillating between the borders of two communities. Characters are developed from his perspective which would perhaps be different than characters created by a culturally Deaf playwright.
Script, ULTRASOUND, 2016. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.
All human stories are valuable, each in their own right for the insights we gain from that particular perspective and the way it may challenge our own way of seeing the world. When selecting a script it is important to be aware of sensitivities within the Deaf community around identity, language and culture. It is important to hire a Deaf Community Consultant to provide insight from the culturally Deaf community as you balance script selection, dramaturgical input, artistic choices and Deaf community experience. This allows hard questions to be asked during script discussion based on well informed, correct information from the culturally Deaf community and allows for counter narratives (to what is often portrayed in less informed circles) to be shared in theatre settings. That said, it is also important to respect the Playwright’s vision and artistic choices. By allowing conversation around cultural practices and identity to take place, it allows for an informed decision to be made by the Playwright. Both perspectives should be acknowledged, respected, and valued.
- Considerations are different for different sized theatre companies so selection of a work by a Deaf playwright, or a play with Deaf actors ultimately comes with a commitment to produce the play with the best practices available and dependent on the company’s resources to do so.
- Play/Work development – Developing works in-house with Deaf artists is another option, and requires a more significant commitment from the producing company for the duration of the development. Another question that should be considered is how will the Deaf artist be included in the rest of the culture of the theatre (at other events not related to that specific play, eg. fundraising, social events, peer artist meetings).
- Solicitation of Scripts/Projects by Deaf artists – When seeking projects led by Deaf artists, the submission call should be in ASL and be available in video format. Ideally, the Deaf artist could also submit in ASL to the theatre.
Partner and Venue Selection
It is crucial for a partnering theatre company to be equally invested in engagement of Deaf artists and audiences. This goes beyond the General Manager and the Artistic Director and must extend to their staff, the venue, and the many entryways for artists/audiences to engage with the art.
Partner consideration should involve the following:
- A commitment to inclusive and accessible practices.
- A will to marshal the practical resources and their staff to engage with the work and the Deaf community, or has a strong history of doing so. This entails not only the actions but a true enthusiasm to do so.
- An openness to discuss with staff what support they will need to accomplish what you wish to do together (eg. additional front of house staff, additional volunteers, training [ASL training], dedicated time for different tasks [scheduling interpreters]).
Venue consideration should involve the following:
- venue accessibility
- online accessibility for information and ticketing
- sightlines available for Deaf audiences/ASL interpreters
- availability of hearing assist devices
- online accessibility for information and ticketing
- capacity to produce accessible marketing materials (eg. vlogs, visual-based materials)
- access to captioning or titling technology
- Choice of creative team is important – although personal experience of creative team members with the Deaf community is ideal, the values of openness and collaboration are key to adjusting to a dynamic environment. It is important to involve individuals who will embrace the opportunity to innovate when working with the Deaf community. In interviews with the creative team of ULTRASOUND, “be open” was the most common advice given by all.
- ASL Interpretation, whether it is done by ASL/English hearing interpreters or/and by a Deaf Interpreter should be part of the aesthetic of the production. In addition to access it can also create another layer of the artistic vision for the production. It is therefore essential to incorporate those members of the creative teamfrom the outset so that each piece of the production embellishes the other creating a cohesive whole.(Nadarajah, 2016). 
- Discussion of this aesthetic must take place with the creative team prior to contract engagement and contracts should include language regarding this commitment to design with access in mind. Creative Team Sample Contracts .
- ASL Coach, ASL Master and ASL Director are terms that have been given for the same role intended to provide feedback to Deaf cast on their ASL performance.
- The Deaf Community Consultant may or may not be qualified to fulfill the role of ASL Coach depending on whether they have a strong ASL linguistics background. These members of the creative team (the ASL Interpreters and Deaf Interpreters to be explained below), the ASL Coach and the Deaf Community Consultant, are all vital members of the cast and crew. These roles must be determined at the outset along with your entire creative team and should not be added on as an afterthought. They will be needed for meetings, performance, rehearsals, tech week and overall communication between cast and crew.
- The role, Director of Artistic Sign Language tends to have more decision making power and consults to the Deaf actors and to hearing interpreters as well. This role exists in U.S. theatre companies but is not yet common practice in Canada.
Within the hierarchy of the theatre :
- ASL interpreters and Deaf Interpreters are level with actors.
- ASL Coach is level with the conductor and dance captain.
- Deaf Community Consultant is level with the director, music director and choreographer.
Auditions and Casting
ACTRA provides Practical Tips for Auditioning Deaf Actors, on their website. Much of this is aligned with theatre audition practices. They advise to:
- use a sign language interpreter.
- speak directly with the Deaf actor and not the interpreter.
- treat the interpreter as a professional.
- watch the lighting: the Deaf actor must see the interpreter.
- be careful of camera framing: the Deaf actor’s hands must be in frame so their language can be seen.
- Sign Language Interpreter and reader placement must be side-by-side, on the same side of the camera. The Deaf Actor can then see both Reader and Interpreter, and does not have to cross frame to do so.
- If casting, Directors are in attendance or viewing the audition later, following these tips will help the Deaf Actor give their best performance.
ACTRA also provides a Guide for Auditioning Deaf Actors: Helpful Links.
Other considerations for auditioning Deaf artists include:
- Style of auditioning – theatre auditions can vary widely dependent on the piece, which may impact Deaf artists auditioning. Sometimes, theatre auditions may include multiple people auditioning simultaneously, group movement, improvisation, etc. Keep in mind that, in general, ASL interpreters will have previously been given information regarding the audition content. However, ‘cold reading’ or text-based improvisation could put a Deaf actor at a disadvantage (unless operating exclusively in ASL.)
- with the selection of a piece, there must be a commitment to using effective Deaf community outreach methods such a Videologs, emails with video messages and Deaf community e-distribution channels, in order to cast the production.
- some outreach strategies include an ASL casting call for Deaf actors (see sample ASL call), more intensive research into the Deaf community, openness to reaching non-union practicing artists and including a broad geographical reach.
- explore a broader range of Deaf theatre artists with an online wiki/roster of Deaf performers.
- Music stands are helpful so that actors can have hands free to sign.
See Youtube video, ASL Audition Call for actors from Cahoots Theatre Company for ULTRASOUND – sample vlog.
L-R Mabelle Cheng and Maryam Hafizirad.
Another sample Youtube video, ASL Audition Call for actors can be seen, from Seeing Voices Montreal for The Little Mermaid.
“In casting for ULTRASOUND it was important for Cahoots Theatre to hire Canadian actors – Canadian actors that identified as Deaf.” It was a conscious decision to create opportunity for Canadian Deaf performers to be on the mainstage for Cahoots’ first significant engagement with the Deaf community.
It is recommended to hire a Deaf community consultant to assist theatre companies moving forward with selecting cast incorporating their knowledge of ASL, regional linguistic variation, Deaf cultural behavior and nuances that would naturally go unnoticed by hearing staff selecting Deaf actors. Discussion of building capacity among Canadian Deaf actors can be found in the section, Moving Forward.
Interview with Elizabeth Morris, Actor, ULTRASOUND
Schedule, Budget and Contracting for Access
“I really think that the investment in a good team of interpreters was absolutely essential . . .. everybody cared about the show and you can’t really do that if people are only in for a day or two and then not there so that consistency I felt was actually very important to the piece . . . If they understand the show they can make things flow very quickly.”
Set, Lighting and Surtitle Designer
Interview, June 6, 2016
Immediately after engaging your Deaf community consultant you will want to begin the process of engaging consistent interpreters for meetings, rehearsals and the production itself. It is critical to begin this engagement process several months ahead of the production in order to increase your chances of securing consistent interpreter support throughout the production process.
When hiring ASL Interpreters for meetings/interviews/rehearsals, etc. the following details should be provided to the ASL Interpreters ahead of time:
- How many people will be in attendance?
- How many are Deaf/hearing?
- What is the nature and general overview of the meetings’ contents?
- What materials will be used during the meeting? This is helpful for preparing ahead of time – interpretation, concepts & terminology (eg. notes, agenda, previous meeting minutes)
- Start / End Time
- Rate of Pay/Travel Allowance (if applicable)
Try to provide as many of the following details to the ASL Interpreter up front in order to determine their fit, comfort and availability.
Depending on the content for the meeting and the number of attendees, the meeting may require two interpreters.
It is always good to provide as much lead-up time as possible when scheduling an ASL Interpreter. For a basic meeting, 2-3 weeks in advance should suffice. However, if it is more elaborate (eg. rehearsal and performance schedule) then providing 3-4 months for securing interpreters is essential.
Plan to budget $50/hr per interpreter (2015/2016 rates) although the rate for Interpreters can range from $45-$75/hour. There are also interpreters who have ½ day or full day rates. Often times there is a two-hour minimum (eg. This would mean that if your meeting was 1.5 hours on Friday, that a $45/hr interpreter would charge $90.00). For theatre productions, because it is a long term commitment with many hours involved, it should be a fixed rate of $45-$60/hour scheduling for daily rehearsals, meetings, etc. It is essential to clarify these details prior to engagement.
Some interpreters have clear terms of reference for their services and some interpreters have more flexibility regarding the terms of their services. It is important to be upfront about the budgeted fee amount prior to engagement so there are no surprises at a later date. It is also important to address whether or not travel allowance is included in the fee, something that the company will cover, or waived by the interpreter.
Typically, an ASL Interpreter will send an invoice to the company or organization after the meeting/assignment has concluded. This is usually done in pdf format over email.
For ULTRASOUND, Cahoots’ practice with rehearsal/performance interpreters was to provide a contract defining the terms of engagement for the duration of the contracted period. In this case, an invoice was not required, as the contract outlined the terms of payment and the payment schedule for a longer term engagement. This ensured a commitment from both sides throughout the process. Download contract templates for an ASL Interpreter and Deaf Interpreter .
The Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC) has a directory of ASL Interpreters within Canada.
Ontario Association of Sign Language Interpreters (OASLI) is an example of a provincial body that provides a directory of interpreters in their province – Ontario.
Ask for recommendations in both the Deaf community and theatre community. Overlapping recommendations can give you confidence in your choice of interpreter. The Deaf community consultant will be a terrific resource in this respect and will also be able to provide continued feedback following meetings in which interpreters are engaged.
This and other resources related to interpreters can be found under References.
The AVLIC directory allows you to search interpreters by location so you can narrow down your search to finding interpreters within Toronto or another city. For Cahoots, most often we were looking for an interpreter who uses ASL-English. Once you have performed your search you can choose to view their profile, which provides you with their contact information. Thus begins the back and forth with trying to secure an available ASL Interpreter.
- It is important to make a distinction between ASL/ English interpreters needed for meetings only and interpreters required for production rehearsals and performance. When engaging an interpreter be sure to discuss their experience and comfort level with theatre production. Many interpreters are not comfortable with providing interpretation in front of an audience and may prefer interpreting meetings, government or medical appointments, etc.
- Besides meetings, for true access and to avoid the illusion of access, the budget for interpreter costs should also include interpretation for translation, rehearsals, coaching, audience engagement activities (eg. Talk/Sign-Backs, Question & Answer Periods, etc.), interpretation backstage for Deaf performances, Front of House and Box Office interpretation as well as interpreting hours on show nights.
- There is a difference between short and long term interpreter contracts. It is extremely important for theatre companies to have consistency of interpreters throughout the production process. This leads to much smoother communication (discussed in the production section on interpreters). It is recommended to hire an interpreter team where the interpreters are comfortable working with one another. A strong team will impact the overall communication and production greatly.
- The surveys we sent out to interpreters and theatre leaders demonstrated a difference in expectation of interpreter costs with interpreters expecting a higher fee than theatre companies expected to pay. This will need to be negotiated with the understanding that consistent interpreters over a long period with many hours is most desirable. It is different from a single event for a few hours. A fee for this type of contract would need to be negotiated by specific interpreters and theatre companies. When negotiating contracts with interpreters you will want to be clear about the desire to engage the same interpreters throughout the process and for the interpreters to understand that it is more steady, consistent work.
All materials used in meetings and rehearsals will be kept confidential by interpeters as per the AVLIC (Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada) Code of Ethics and are considered your personal information. Following the meeting, notes will be returned or shredded by the interpreter.
Refer to the Sample ASL Interpreter Schedule and Budget for Rehearsals, Tech Week and Performance as well as the ASL Interpreter Schedule and Budget Template for your use here and in the Reference module, template section (or download them here). This schedule/budget can also be applied to the engagement of interpreters for Front of House and Box Office.
Script Interpretation and Translation
- Interpreters will need the script as soon as possible pre-production to begin to determine the best interpretation. Even if a script of an original play is still in draft stages, it is still beneficial for the interpreters to have the draft script.
- ASL is its own language with its own grammatical rules, vocabulary and social rules of use. See section on American Sign Language under the module “Cultural Context”. There are many ways to take a written script and translate it properly into another language. Respect for the playwright’s intent as well as accurate portrayal of the Deaf cultural context should all be considered in the interpretation and translation.
- When engaging hearing interpreters to interpret a performance, the ASL translation needs to be vetted by a culturally Deaf person with a linguistics background and strong cultural knowledge and experience. This could be the Deaf Community Consultant and/or the ASL Coach depending on their background. This translation with vetting must happen as early as possible.
- There may be a challenge if it is a new work because the script often gets revised in the rehearsal hall. That points to the need to have a culturally Deaf, knowledgeable and experienced person in ASL linguistics present during the development and rehearsal process.
- If a company has the capacity to do ASL interpreted performances, booking interpreters should not be the only consideration. Best practice includes also hiring an ASL Coach to provide feedback to the interpreters on linguistic decisions as well as delivery. Refer to the interpreter section under the “Production” module.
- Cultural context within the script may be different than the backgrounds of the interpreters available. This touches on intersectionality as a script may have for example, a character from Afghanistan and an interpreter with that cultural background may not be available to infuse the appropriate cultural information into the ASL interpretation. Additional time may be needed for proper interpretation to account for consultation with people from that background to inform the interpretation.
 Refer to the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf and the Canadian Association of the Deaf under Deaf Organization Contacts in “Templates and Samples” of the “Resources” Module of the DATT.
 Nadarajah, N. (2016). The Limping Chicken: Sign Language in Theatre Should be Art Not Access. June 15, 2016.
 Refer to Distribution in the Marketing and Publicity module.
 Marjorie Chan, Artistic Director, Cahoots Theatre
 Insights on hiring ASL interpreters for meetings, interviews and rehearsals from Cahoots Theatre Company General Manager, Kate Ann Vandermeer