Thursday, December 23, 2010

Houston sign language music interpretation class interprets "Annie" movie for local deaf community

From Ultimate Montrose in Houston:

There were a few butterflies earlier this month when a group of Houston Community College students gave a special presentation of Annie.

For most, performing was a new experience. The sign-language performance was their final exam for their Sign Language Musical Interpretation course, taught at HCC's Central Campus this fall.

The students signed along to each of the songs in the 1982 movie musical, starring Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney and Carol Burnett.

"The students had to know the language, overcome stage fright, learn the lines and act professional," class member Eduardo Morales said.

Ultimately, the responses of the deaf audience members more than made up for the students' efforts, he said.

"For deaf people, it means a lot when someone takes the time to learn sign language," said Morales, a southwest Houston resident.

Sign language interpretation makes a movie a much richer experience for deaf audience members, agreed Amber Galloway, who taught the HCC course.

"The thing is that most of the world does not realize that there is quite a bit of meaning lost when deaf people watch musicals on film with the captions," she said. "The captions do not capture all of what's being said because often times certain words are drawn out vocally or end abruptly. They may also fail to capture the tone the singer might be using at any given time. There are lost meanings with innuendos and certain uses of speech.

"By showing the movie on a large projector while the interpreters sign the songs and become the characters of each actor they are able to convey the lost meaning," Galloway said. "We were able to open this up to the deaf community so they can see this aspect of our hearing world and what makes musicals on screen so special for us."

There is an art to interpreting song with sign language, Galloway said.

"The key points to interpreting music are the ability to capture the affect of the person singing as to match their characteristics of each actor, but also keeping in mind the ability to show the use of sign language in a fluid and lyrical fashion."

The students gave careful thought to their wardrobes, too. They wanted to complement the movie, without distracting from the signing.

Morales, who signed as Daddy Warbucks, wore a black tuxedo. The women representing the orphans in the musical wore gray or white blouses.

A number of area businesses supported the students' Annie performance with donations or product discounts, including Hair Designers of Houston, Nooky's Bakery, PetCare Express and TNT Shirts. "These people didn't know what I was doing from Adam," said Morales, who coordinated their donations. "They were great."

In addition to the Annie show, groups of Galloway's students made a similar presentation of Grease Dec. 10 and interpreted The Rocky Horror Picture Show Dec. 16.

The music course was the first of its kind in Houston, Galloway said.

"In the past I've had the opportunity to teach all-day workshops on music interpreting in the community, so when I was asked to develop an entire semester this topic I jumped at the chance to do it," she said. "It was a chance to open the minds of young interpreting students to the joy of interpreting music."

Prior to entering HCC's sign language interpretation programs, students are required to learn American Sign Language from deaf instructors.

From there, the two-year interpretation program prepares students to take the entry-level state certification exam as a sign language interpreter.

"It is a highly demanded career and allows for a wonderful profession and amazing experiences," Galloway said.

In addition to music interpretation, the program offers such special topics courses as medical and legal sign language interpretation.