Neptune Theatre will introduce American Sign Language to its theatre programming in 2019 for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“There’s a lot of barriers for a lot of people to attend theatre, and we don’t want that to be the case. We want to bit by bit pick away at those barriers,” said Annie Valentina, artistic accomplice responsible for community outreach at Neptune.
Valentina is co-ordinating the service between Neptune and the ASL team. The plan is to hire trained ASL professionals who are familiar with theatre interpretation.
“It’s sort of part of this, ‘if you build it, they will come’ kind of ideology,” she said.
Meeting a need
The last production that involved ASL interpretation at Neptune was The Miracle Worker almost 10 years ago. It generated excitement among the deaf community, and Neptune realized there was a demand for this.
Betty MacDonald, member of the Society of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Nova Scotians, helped with The Miracle Worker and joined with Neptune to introduce ASL programming. The society is a non-profit that provides services to the deaf and hard of hearing community.
MacDonald can be seen signing in the announcement video for the first ASL show in January.
It was through this announcement that Elliott Richman, executive director of Deafness Advocacy Association Nova Scotia, learned of Neptune’s ASL programming. The group works to unite services, organizations and governments on behalf of the deaf community.
In an email to The Signal, Richman said ASL performances are “few and far between,” in Nova Scotia. He attributes it to the lack of regulations to make public spaces ASL friendly. Richman estimates there were fewer than five ASL interpreted performances in the province in the last decade.
One such performance was from Home First, an independent theatre company in Halifax. They did a production of Some Blow Flutes that offered an ASL interpreter for one matinee on Oct. 27. Valentina attended that performance to do research for Neptune.
Richman supports ASL interpretation at all types of events.
“Having a live performance ASL interpreted (in general) makes that performance accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community,” said Richman. “In other words, if it were not for this ASL interpretation ASL users would not attend this production. It’s as simple as that.”
Tova Sherman, founding director of Canada’s only disability film festival, Bluenose-Ability Film Festival, is also supportive.
“The only way to truly equalize the playing field and ensure everyone is welcome at cultural events to both participate and attend is to have accommodation in place. Notice I didn’t use the word special accommodation because there is nothing special about equalizing the playing field,” Sherman said.
The first ASL interpretation at Neptune will be a matinee of Cinderella on Jan. 5. Another production later in the season will also feature an ASL show, but what production and what showing of it has yet to be decided.
Valentina said they decided to start with a matinee after researching how other theatre companies introduced ASL, particularly those of similar size to Neptune. Neptune plans to adjust the schedule based on feedback after the first two performances.
The theatre company will also have tickets set aside specifically for ASL performances that only show up for people who use the promo code NeptuneASL.
Other accessible programming
Neptune has been working towards more accessible programming over the last couple of years.
It currently offers sensory-friendly performances in conjunction with Autism Nova Scotia. These performances feature low sound levels, reduced light, quiet break areas and extra staffing. Audience members are also allowed to talk and move during these shows.
Pay What You Can night is also an option for theatregoers. Held on the first Tuesday night of every show, people make a small donation to see the play. Neptune plans to introduce a Pay it Forward campaign, where people pay for a ticket and leave it for someone who may not be able to afford a show.
Although ASL won’t be offered at every show, Valentina hopes they’ll be able to in the future.