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Stepping onto the stage

By Diana Caruana

Hesitant but excited at the prospect of trying something new, I accepted my first theatre interpreting gig. You know those times when your mouth works quicker than your brain and before you know it, you can't take your words back? That's how it felt when I said "yes".

The script arrived first. It was from a local, contemporary ensemble for emerging artists. Quite an abstract and thought provoking production and like a lot of theatre, was open to interpretation. As practitioners we all know the importance of preparation. This is certainly true for theatre interpreting.

Comprehending a script for a performance you haven't seen can be unnerving. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to watch the production with my mentor who is an experienced theatre interpreter. The significance of themes, timing, direction and the role of music became clearer.

I took note of scenes that may present challenges because of my stage position, anything visual (that didn't need an interpretation), idioms and humour that required a succinct interpretation. You barely have time to "unpack".

An intense forty-eight hours followed. Meeting up with my mentor to discuss notes and rehearse was invaluable. I was working on stage alone, but for the most part I didn't feel that way. She gave me guidance, advice and validated my understanding of the performance. I can see the importance of a consultant for the larger theatre productions. That support is necessary.

Working alone on stage, using role shift can be hard when you can't see what's happening behind you. While I tried to prepare for this, there were slight differences in the dialogue between performances. Just because there is a script doesn't mean it will be followed exactly.

There will be variances, actors do ad lib! Theatre interpreting is not just about conveying the message. It's about what you want the audience to feel and experience. "Give yourself permission to use free interpretation", was a great tip. Don't focus on words so much, but the meaning behind them. With this thought, I realise I can be freer with space too, without over doing it.

I have a greater respect for colleagues that live and breathe theatre interpreting. You're amazing and I look forward to learning from you in the future. Thank you to those that worked with me. You certainly made me feel comfortable, not so nervous and allowed me to enjoy the experience all the more.

Daina Caruana is a Paraprofessional Auslan Interpreter based in Sydney. She has been practising since 2013 after completing the Diploma of Interpreting (Auslan/English). Daina has a background in management and administration and has been immersed in the deaf community and culture since birth. She now enjoys interpreting in various settings and recently started interpreting in theatre. This article was originally published in the ASLIA e-update and is reproduced with permission.