By Jack Jeffery
Through the talents of Ohio University students skilled in American Sign Language interpretation, deaf and hard of hearing members of the audience attending the July 24 outdoor performance of "Tecumseh!" can fully experience the story of the Shawnee leader's effort to defend his Ohio homelands during the late 1700s.
During the evening, eight students from the university's Chillicothe and Lancaster regional campuses will take what they've learned in deaf studies interpreting courses before a crowd and become part of that experience.
"The students need to have a little bit of 'ham' in them," said Lorraine Rogers, an adjunct faculty member in the DSI program on both campuses. "Because this is a play, they need to do more than just interpret words. The students need to portray the whole picture, such as emotions, feelings and intentions. This type of situation calls for them to be more animated than in typical situations."
The students will work in tandem, with a two-person team signing for each act of the play. Students and two faculty members attended a June 9 performance to get a feel for the play and to discuss details such as location of the students during the production.
"This offers an excellent opportunity for students to gain practical experience to help further prepare them for their careers," said Abby White, assistant professor of Deaf Studies and Interpreting at the Chillicothe campus.
While looking forward to the evening, student Julie Parma, a Cleveland Westlake High School graduate, is aware of the commitment the opportunity requires.
"This is learning to sign in real time," Parma said. "This will probably be faster-paced than I imagine. Once the performance begins, you cannot hit the 'pause' button."
To prepare for the production, the students are studying the script to memorize the lines they will interpret. Each student must become familiar with the lines of multiple characters and each will sign for three or four scenes. Signing for a theatrical production has other challenges that will require the DSI students to show some stage presence.
"We need to find spots so that the students are visible but not obtrusive," Rogers said. "While they need to provide access to the play, they are not performers themselves."
Because of the authentic nature of the play, the students must also learn to understand American dialects from that time period, and then translate that language to ASL. Rogers and fellow DSI faculty member Becky Brooks will interpret the spoken Shawnee parts.
Student Carolyn Turpening considers the evening a bonus to her course work.
"It is a rare chance to sign before a large deaf audience," said Turpening, a graduate of Pickerington North High School who takes classes on both the Chillicothe and Lancaster campuses. "This is a great way to sharpen our skills and gain real-life experience."
Tecumseh! is presented at the Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheater outside of Chillicothe through Aug. 29. Students will interpret at the July 24 performance of the drama, which is now in its 37th season, beginning at 8 p.m. Information is available online at tecumsehdrama.com.