Demands and Strategies of Interpreting a Theatrical Performance into American Sign Language

January 1, 2014


Every night, on stages all over the world, curtains go up. Friends, families, and strangers gather together in theatres to be entertained, provoked, and engaged in a world of ideas and emotions. For many deaf people the experience of theatre is delivered through the use of a theatrical interpreter, who is charged with the task of rendering an equivalent interpretation for a dynamic theatrical performance in a different language. What are the demands theatrical interpreters encounter in this work and what are the subsequent strategies they employ to counter these demands? In this study, I explored how interpreters who work between English and American Sign Language (ASL) navigate script translation, musical aesthetics, and stage action during a single theatrical performance. To examine the demands and strategies in this setting, I analyzed twenty minutes of an interpreted Broadway musical and conducted two interviews with the theatrical interpreting team. Findings reveal that the team of interpreters primarily used meaning-based free translation and included the use of manipulated prosody, sign space, and facial expressions to parallel auditory information contained in the music. Further, they used various techniques both to throw focus to visual information taking place on stage and to share focus during the concurrent presentation of auditory and visual information. The results provide an in-depth examination of an under-researched domain of interpreting and offers insights into the linguistic and artistic devices employed by highly experienced theatrical interpreters. The techniques uncovered in this examination may serve as a guide for other interpreters who seek to work in this unique interpreting environment.


Download Article



Citation: Ganz Horwitz, Miriam (2014) “Demands and Strategies of Interpreting a Theatrical Performance into American Sign Language,” Journal of Interpretation: Vol. 23: Iss. 1, Article 4. Available at:

* Interested in receiving StreetLeverage posts in your inbox? SignUp!

Stay Current

Want to be among the first to know when we publish new content?

Are you an interpreter?

We respect your privacy.
We will never share your info.

Forward-looking organizations committed to retelling the story of the interpreter.



(New York)