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Signing Shakespeare: What goes into a Signed Performance?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

An Explanation from Holly Thomas-Mowery- ASL Interpreter for ISF

I would say I put about 100 to 120 intense hours into preparing for a Shakespeare play, so a team of two interpreters are working about 200-240 hours of prep for one play.

Interpreter Holly Thomas-Mowery in action

An interpreter has to become extremely familiar with the script (the plot, scenes, back-story, the beats, character motivations, jokes, etc.).  We sit in on several rehearsals to understand where each actor is taking their character and to understand the director’s vision.  We spend about four hours watching a full performance of the play to see how characters play off of each other, and to particularly observe emotionality/sarcasm/cadence/sound effects that can’t be discerned from the script.  We have about ten meetings (2-3 hours long each) among the interpreting team to prepare for a play.  These meetings include analysis of each scene so that characters can be divided between each interpreter, depending on which characters are in which scene, and who’s dialoguing with whom in each scene.  I spend about 50 – 60 hours working alone simply translating and nearly memorizing the play.  Because ASL is a visual/spatial language, all of this analysis is necessary to accurately depict the action, plot and resolution.  We tone-down or ramp-up the graphic/explicit nature of the translation choices based on if the play is intended for all ages or 14 years old and up.

A significant dimension to our preparation is the double translation needed for a Shakespeare play.  We translate Shakespearian English into modern English, and then translate modern English into ASL.  The goal is by the time of the signed performance we’re able to hear the original text and produce ASL – we actively translate every phrase/sentence twice in our heads the night of Signing Shakespeare.  We also establish sign names for significant characters, typically based on a character’s personality or physical features so that the dialogue flows well, especially when two characters are discussing a third, absent character in a given scene.

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As we’ve all heard, humor doesn’t directly translate well into other languages.  This is very true of English and ASL.  Things that are very funny in ASL might make a monolingual English speaker scratch her head, while a hilarious moment in spoken English might not be funny at all in ASL.  This is particularly true when it comes to humor based on sound.  What might be funny is the accent the actor is using, the particular misuse of word choices that ‘sound’ funny, the pitch of an actor’s voice for effect, and the speed of delivery – all of which are naturally undetectable and non-funny to a person who doesn’t hear.  Interpreters work very hard to tweak jokes just enough and make accents/cadence/pitch/idiosyncrasies visible in order for deaf audience members to laugh right along with the rest of the audience.  We work to never have the non-deaf audience laughing while the deaf audience is not (and vice versa).  A clever example of this is in Complete Works, where there’s an entire scene (Macbeth in ridiculous Scottish accents) where they macspeak maceverything with mac in macfront of every macword, which sounds hilarious to non-deaf people.  Our translation uses an odd handshape that we continually repeat throughout that one scene that is visually very funny and over-the-top to the deaf audience.

Analysis of the Greenshow is a whole other piece to our preparation.

 Best!

Holly

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Boise Weekly: Charlie Fee "I've picked a giant, populist season for 2011."

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

By George Prentice, published November 17, 2010

Charles Fee

Charles Fee, Producing Artistic Director

About the only thing on stage at Idaho Shakespeare Festival right now is the occasional snowflake. Yet the home fires are burning behind the scenes as the pieces come together for the 2011 season. Early-bird tickets go on sale Thanksgiving weekend.

Next year will mark Charlie Fee's 20th season as producing artistic director with ISF. He is also producing artistic director of Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in Nevada.

How is the company doing financially?

We're doing fine. Because, quite frankly, we're good at planning. 2008 was, like for everybody else, down a bit. 2009 saw a bigger drop. In 2010, we are actually up on season tickets, but single tickets came down a little bit, so we came out fine. We've been in the black for 15 seasons straight. These last few years, we tightened and tightened and tightened, and we managed to cut a lot of expenses.

But for 2011, I've picked a giant, populist season. I do feel we can plan for, push for and hope for real growth this coming season.

You'll open the season next June when you direct Two Gentlemen of Verona.

A big, big Shakespeare comedy, because we're looking for the big comedies to anchor our season.

Are you at a stage where you're considering a cast for Two Gents?

I went into Two Gents thinking I had the key players set. I actually ended up with none of them. I chose to go forward anyway. It's exciting for us as a company because now I have an opportunity to cast the four lead roles with four young actors who haven't been working with us for the last few years, or perhaps ever.

Do you have open auditions?

Yes. Our union requires it. We plan to audition in Chicago in December and Los Angeles in January.

You'll be directing the second production as well, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

We had a blast with this show last summer in Lake Tahoe. I didn't know this past summer whether we would bring the show here to Idaho. It's fun but also a little scary because I've got a number of open roles to cast.

Third will be the season's big musical.

Cabaret is a spectacular, dramatic piece of musical theater as opposed to traditional musical comedy. It's set in a time [pre World War II] and a place [Germany] fraught with danger. I'm interested in engaging our audiences into an experience with musicals that are deeper than traditional fare.

Have you thought about who you will cast in the lead roles?

Eduardo Placer [Puck in 2010's A Midsummer Night's Dream] will play the emcee. Jodi Dominick [the baker's wife in 2008's Into the Woods] will play Sally Bowles.

And your fourth production will be another Shakespeare comedy, The Taming of the Shrew.

I chose this for two reasons. First, I picked it for Sara Bruner [2011 will be Bruner's 15th season with ISF]. This will be a very different kind of role for her. Sara has played so many different ingenues and women in the Shakespeare canon: Rosalind, Viola, Juliet, Desdemona, Ophelia. But she's never really had this opportunity. This is a great role for her at this point in her career.

Plus simultaneously, I met a new director at the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Ore., Tracy Young. She directed a 2009 production of The Servant of Two Masters, which I adored. I told her, “We have to work together.” So I have a new director with a style I just love: wildly improvisational with a deep background in physicality and commedia dell'arte. And Shrew sort of feels like that. So this is a very good match. Bringing a woman as a director to this play introduces a very different sensibility, because Shrew is considered the ultimate battle of the sexes story. Tracy is brilliant and I'm very excited about bringing a new director into the team.

And the fifth production will be The 39 Steps.

It's so much fun. Four actors play all the characters. So, it'll be a quick-change show. It's a theatrical form that is a blast for our audiences but it's technically very difficult. Because it's based on the classic novel and the Alfred Hitchcock film, it brings together a 1930s period sensibility that's a wild romp.

Do you seriously consider building a second stage someday?

Yes. All the time. But it's still not the moment to launch a major campaign. That day will come. Building a new theater would be a big undertaking and you really have to plan carefully for that. Read article at Boise Weekly

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Voices from the Company: Sara Bruner, Acting Company

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Tuesday, July 6th

We have two shows up and two shows in rehearsal- things are getting crazy.  Some actors are only performing in the evenings, some are rehearsing all day, then performing at night; and others (like me) are rehearsing in the afternoons and evenings.  Those of us who are in rehearsal spend the day bouncing around to different “calls”.  We go back and forth between An Ideal Husband and Othello, and also have extra “specialized” calls added in for costume fittings and to learn fights, dances, and music.  I'm especially excited about the music rehearsal because we have a composer who is writing original music for Othello- so my (Desdemona's) “Willow” song is exclusively composed for our production!  One of my favorite things about the theater is the level of collaboration that takes place.  The audience is essentially viewing the tip of the iceberg when they come to see a performance- as actors we are the most visible aspect of a show- but we stand on the shoulders of many fellow artists and administrators that are pieces of a complicated equation.

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I have been studying my Othello lines all morning, and I'm looking forward to getting in the rehearsal hall an moving around a little and putting things into action.  The first blocking rehearsal that we did for Othello was the final scene in which —–SPOILER ALERT—- Othello strangles me.  It was a really hard scene to try to tackle first, but I feel more fearless now because we went head to head with a tough scene in the beginning.  I also have some Ideal Husband rehearsal today- the entire show is blocked and we are just polishing it right now.  Aled Davies, one of our long time company members, is the dialect coach for An Ideal husband.  We have been training hard trying to perfect the sound of this show- it's Oscar Wilde so we are all getting on the same page with our British RP (received pronunciation).  All of us have done RP before, but it is a skill that you need to drill constantly in order to perform at the top your game.  Aled has been great and we are making good progress.  

More to come!

Sara B.

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