Theatre Interpreting in Devon and Cornwall with Dreadnought South West

 

 

Interpreting Dreadnought’s production of ‘The Cause’, touring throughout the South West, has sadly now come to an end. It is as they say ‘all good things come to an end’ – and it was, a very good thing! Both in terms (of course) that access to theatre for people who use BSL as their first language, but equally for me as an opportunity to interpret in theatre again. It was extraordinary for me this time that I also had the privilege of interpreting the play more than once because I travelled with the Dreadnought crew to four of their touring locations in Devon and Cornwall. Interpreting a play more than once is a dream for many theatre interpreters as they will have the opportunity to evaluate their work and improve upon anything ready for the next show. 

I used my time wisely and invited my mentor to the first performance in South Devon, so I had two sets of eyes (mine and hers) to evaluate my interpretation. Whilst it is very kind for people to say that I looked ‘very good’, these aren’t always reliable sources of feedback due to the nature of their comments – usually they are trying to be kind, or they might not understand BSL to make any meaningful comments (although, always nice to be told that I am doing a good job!) Another set of eyes (my mentor) meant that I not only avoid the risk of ‘head in the clouds’ attitude that all is OK and nothing needs to be changed, but more so to stop me from being too critical on myself and having more of a constructive view to work from. 

I was also very fortunate that the attitude from Dreadnought was very flexible and open minded when it came to including a BSL interpreter into their performances. They made it very clear from the start that they did not want it to be just a token gesture, but also something for them to learn from so that they will have more of an understanding of how to make their performances accessible in the future. Their flexibility included having numerous meetings with the director and writer of the play to discuss my positioning on stage and the resources I needed from them in order to start prepping the play effectively. Among many other things, this included having early access to the script; a filmed performance for me to have available at home; complementary tickets to as many performances to help me understand the concept of the play and characterisation. I was also invited to the rehearsals, where I could stand and have an open dialogue with the actors in what they thought might work well.

Whilst the above might seem standard to what you would expect an interpreter would need in order to help prepare for a theatre production, these things aren’t always available. This can depend on things such as the attitude of the director, i.e. they’ve been told they are having an interpreter in their play, rather than them seeking to make their play more inclusive. This can sometimes lead to challenging discussions about where they want the interpreter to stand on stage and where I believe it would be more beneficial to the deaf audience. It can also be linked to time constraints in that an interpreter is sometimes not sourced until a couple of weeks before the scheduled performance. It was a luxury that I was given the script and met with Dreadnought in spring this year and the BSL interpreted performances did not start until autumn. 

Having more than one performance date I believe helped me to improve as the performances toured in and around Devon and Cornwall. Whilst it is always important to self-reflect after interpreting assignments – particularly theatre work to think about what I could do differently next time for a different show – I actually had the opportunity to have a ‘next time’ for the same play.

The value of having a mentor….

adviceMentoring – a place to go for further skills development; sharing of experiences in the interpreting field; and, release of empathetic pain. I personally go to my mentor as a safe place to ask questions that I can sometimes feel I can’t ask anyone else – “Did I interpret that correctly?” Dean and Pollard (2001) refer to this as ‘inner noise’. These real or perceived skill inadequacies need to be dealt with otherwise, according to Heller, Stansfield, Stark and Langholtz (1986) cited in Dean and Pollard (2001), it is the most commonly cited source of stress. Whilst I recognise that additional training can also help to develop and improve the skills of an interpreter, it is not the same as having a one to one meeting with someone who is paid to focus on your skills and needs, rather than trying to share their time with an entire class.

Mentoring has provided me a way of discussing demands interpreters can experience in an assignment and how I can explore ways to control some of these demands. Lee and Llewellyn-Jones (2011) refer to this as ‘interaction management’. These are interventions or behaviours that the interpreter uses to manage the interaction in an assignment; these are specific things the interpreter feels they need to do to make sure the interpretation is not impeded (Lee and Llewellyn-Jones 2011). These interventions could be things such as asking for repetition of the speaker, or to turn down the heating in a room because it was getting too hot. Having a mentor is also a release of empathetic pain that I may have experienced from interpreting assignments. Without a mentor I have no release for any negative emotions I may be feeling about an assignment. Emotions can develop inside of me which could potentially have an impact on my ability to interpret in situations which I am consciously and unconsciously sensitive (Harvey 2003).

In my view, interpreters should obtain mentors that have undertaken formal training. Being able to give constructive feedback can be challenging for some people. In particular, giving advice to a friend can be skewed by the blurred lines between a friend and a mentor – with training these boundaries can become clearer. In addition to this, it is important mentors know how to encourage interpreters to self-reflect so that they can make decisions for themselves, rather than mentors telling them what to do. The most important thing is who the interpreter chooses to be their mentor Block (2013). In particular Block (2013) emphasises the importance of having someone who has years of experiences, rather than how many credentials they have gained. Therefore, it is important the interpreter thinks carefully about the person they want to discuss their issues with and whom they will be happy to take advice from!

In addition to the above, having a mentor could help not only the mentee but also the deaf community. This is because those interpreters with little experience can be assisted by mentors to develop a higher level of competency at a faster pace (www.rid.org). According to the Registry of Interpreter for the Deaf (RID) Standard Practice paper ‘Mentoring’ those interpreters who provide mentoring, experience greater job satisfaction increasing the likelihood that they will remain in the profession long term, therefore making more interpreter available for consumers.

I personally really value the benefits of meeting my mentor on a regular basis and feel it is a great way to look at how I can put the theory I learned at university and on other training courses into practice. This, I believe, can be gained by those interpreters who have been in the field of interpreting for many years and have been trained as mentors. As with many things, theory can sometimes take you only so far, is it not the ‘doing’ and self-reflecting and learning from others that can take us further?

References:

  • Block, K (2013) ‘Mentorship: Sign Language Interpreters Embrace Your Elders’ [on-line] Street Leverage, June, last accessed on 4th January 2014, at URL http://www.streetleverage.com/2-13/6/mentorship-sign-language-interpreters-embrace-your-elders/;
  • Dean, R.K. and Pollard, R.Q. (2001) ‘Application of Demand-Control Theory to Sign Language Interpreting: Implications for Stress and Interpreter Training. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 6 (1) : 1-14;
  • Harvey, M.A. (2003) ‘Shielding Yourself From the Perils of Empathy: The Case of Sign Language Interpreters’ Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 8 (2): 207-213
  • Lee, R.G and Llewellyn-Jones, P (2011) ‘Revisiting Role: Arguing for a Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Interpreter Behaviour’ [on-line]last accessed on 5th January 2014 at URL: http://clok.uclan.ac.uk/5031/1/Lee%20and%20L-J%202011.pdf

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