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The Professional Performance Interpreting Process

Please remember this is one method of how I prepare for various types of performances.  There are many other ways of doing this, and you might vary this from one performance to the next.  As with all interpreting, we adapt the process to fit the circumstances of the day.


The Offer

Consideration must be taken as to the time and effort that is need to properly prepare for a performance interpreting assignment.Up to 50 hours can be spent in reading, research, script preparation, rehearsals, discussions, attending performances, working with the Auslan consultant, mentor, director, producer….and the list goes on.Interpreters must weigh up their enthusiasm for the project with their regular job, their life and whether it will all fit together.


In addition to time management, interpreters need to consider that they will never make their fortune in performance interpreting.Regardless of how much is paid, the calculation of the hourly rate come out to be minimal.Interpreters must do this for the love of the theatre, the benefit they will gain from the experience, and the feeling of giving back to the community.There is never a lot of money involved.


The Script

Once the offer has been considered and accepted, the interpreter should expect to see an electronic copy of the script in their inbox very shortly after.Scripts are copyright and licenses for them are paid for by the theatre.These licenses are for the creatives of the performance only and should be treated very carefully.They are not to be shared to all and sundry.And once the performance has ended, there is an expectation that they will be disposed of carefully too.


As to the process, firstly read the script a couple of times.Make some notes as to areas of interest such as songs, audio that appear in the performance, difficult words or concepts, etc.Do some research, consider the signs and interpretation you might use for written/spoken English and write them on the script. This is called glossing.


If Possible, See The Play First

This will assist with character allocation and the"feel" of the characters and the performance.I like to see a performance or rehearsal as soon as possible a script can feel very “flat” and without life unless you have seen the performance, Even being involved in early development of new works can assist.iIn fact, this may lead to a more inclusive and included Auslan performance. 



As you know , there is no written form of Auslan. It is a visual/spacial language.Glossing is method of representing the signs you might use for an Auslan translation of the written English script. (yes, this is translation, as it is a static piece that you get to practice many, many times)There are formal methods of glossing used within linguistic circles, but the way a performance interpreter does their own glossing on their script is up to them.  As long as it is useful to them to rehearse with and discuss from (and they can read and understand it later). The method iI use is to write the English word for a particular sign underneath or beside the line in question, with annotations for the different expressions, head nods, body movement, depicting signs (classifiers) and other bits and pieces that make a sign make sense in that context.  Rather than read word by word, translate a for meaning and timing.should be considered and taken as a whole, for greater meaning and fluency.  Glossing is a continual work in progress and takes a considerable amount of time.


It is often useful to gloss the entire script, rather than worry division of parts and characters at this stage, but tjis does take a great deal of time.  You may have to rationalise your time and only gloss those parts that are relavent to you.   But Interpreters need to learn the entire script as they need to be aware their cues, in much the same way actors do.


Meet Your Partner Interpreter

Most production will enlist the services of 2 interpreters.Some special circumstances will require only one, and more rarely, 3 interpreters.Therefore, you will need to get well acquainted with your partner interpreter. You will need to discuss the production, negotiate division of parts, talk about music, lyrics and audio that is involved in the production, even mundane things such as which side of each other you prefer to sit or stand.


Practice, Practice Practice

The only way to do well as a performance interpreter is to spend as much time as possible learning and embodying the piece you are engaged in.If possible, get a video or audio of the current production for use when rehearsing at home, either alone or with your partner interpreter.Most often, theatre companies will produce a video for archival purposes, but this happens later in the production.Some will allow you to record a performance or even do the recording for you.


Practice means different things to different people.It could be listening to an audio recording in the car whilst driving to work to become so familiar with the piece, you could probably act it yourself.It could be watching the video recording to get a feel for the actors and the space.It could be seeing as many of the live performances as you can to again absorb the piece as much as possible.And any combination of the lot. And, of course, it means working with your partner interpreter, mentor, Auslan consultant and any other supports that you may have to refine the way the piece is presented to the target audience.


Things to remember

Although interpreters are not actors in this situation, they do embody the actors’ characterisation in the performance.  And as is often the case, the interpreter must embody a number of characters, they have to distinguish between these characters, so that the target audience can clearly make sense of the piece.  That may be roleshift, physically changing expression or body stance, and of course, combinations of them all.

Make sure to interpret the subtext when applicable, but don’t to interpret the obvious.  Let the performance speak for itself when it can.  Like most interpreting work, interpreters have to work out how to interpret subtext and inference that is unseen, but important information, and how much to interpret of what can clearly be seen.  It is always a judgement call and should involve your Auslan consultant as much as possible.


Talk to The Director/Producer/Stage Manager.

Hopefully at this stage contact has already occurred, either by the performing interpreters themselves or the booking agency.These creatives are important for information regarding the performance, placement of the interpreters and the audience when the performance happens.Hopefully you will not have to involve yourself in negotiating ticketing, advertising etc, but if you do, be sure to involve these people in the discussions.Whatever discussion you, remember that often this is the first time that people have worked with interpreters or Deaf people.Explain everything, but be gentle.You’ll need allies.

          Some discussion points

  • Blocking (placement on the stage)

  • Audience placement

  • Rehearsal and technical run times (to clarify lighting, blackouts movements, whatever)


Working with Your Auslan Consultant

Most (but not all) productions where the interpretation is organised by Creative Access will be done with the assistance of an Auslan consultant.This person (generally a Deaf person) will help make the performance as deaf-friendly as possible.They will be native or near native Auslan users and have experience and an interest in both the performance/theatre and interpreting.They can be utilised in a number of ways.Remember to use them effectively as they are usually only engaged for a couple of hours per performance.


Some ways to utilise the Auslan consultant:

  •       Ways of signing particular parts of performance (signs, depicting signs, body language, expression, etc to elicit       meaning)

  •      Ways of being more succinct with language

  •      Discussing appropriateness (or not) of your interpretation of a piece.

  •      Blocking and lighting of interpreters on the stage

  •      Placement of Deaf audience members


Preparing  for The Actual Performance

This can be a nervous time for any performer, and no less so for the interpreters.  Make sure you know the time when the theatre will be available for you to enter and try to arrive at least 45minutes to an hour before the performance.  Make sure you have eaten properly and are well hydrated throughout the day of the performance.  Take snacks and drinks for backstage, and ensure you have had enough to sustain you throughout the performance itself. Ensure you warm up.  You will often need to be on your feet and waving your hands for 90 minutes and more.  And it can be very tiring, so ensuring that you are as well rested as possible.  And if you are able to, having time to rest the day after can be helpful too.  Don’t be surprised if directly after the performance you continue to be full of energy and excitement from the performance.  And don’t be surprised if you are tired and muscle sore the next day.  Make sure you look after yourself to ensure you able to continue to work in this area, and avoid injury.

Back to nerves.  Don’t let nerves overtake you.  Some nervousness is said to be good to keep you alert, but allowing them to build can be debilitating.  Knowing that you are prepared will help keep anxiety in check.

Lastly, be sure you soak up the atmosphere of the space where you are working and enjoy the event.



Do an honest self-analysis of your performance.  Write some notes on the good points of your performance individually and as a team.  And also make notes on where you can improve.  Be measured in the way you analyse the overall performance.  See the performance as a whole rather than parts that you might not be so happy with. It is often a good idea to talk to your Auslan consultant and/or mentor a couple of days or week after the event, if possible.  Don’t leave it too long, as memories being to fade or change.  Be open and honest in your discussion with them.  This is an opportunity for improvement.


This is by no means an exhaustive outline.  Your process may be different from this and different from one performance to the next.  See these points as merely a guide.

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