How Interpreted Theatre Empowers The Deaf Community

14 Sep 2015, by Sherrie Beaver in Articles

Deaf patrons have missed out on the theatre experience due to lack of performances being available with sign language interpreters. The majority of performances are accessible through captioning; yet English isn’t the first and preferred language of Deaf patrons. Captioning doesn’t have the ability to convey emotions, tones & body language — and this is where Deaf patrons miss out on the deeper context of the performance. They leave the theatre with an unsatisfactory experience and without the opportunity to reflect and discuss with their peers.


Now imagine you’ve missed out on the stories; you’ve missed out on the learning opportunities; the transaction between the audience and the cast is faulty. The result is an unhappy, unsatisfied and withdrawn patron. Through provision of the interpreters, the Deaf patron undergoes the same transaction as their peers. The result is an enjoyable one. They are able to exit the theatre, and join the discussion post-show with their hearing-peers. The entire family is able to enjoy the theatrical experience from the hearing grandparents, Deaf parents to the CODAs.

– Jessica


The main purpose of theatre is to tell a story; without sign language interpreters, the story becomes long distance between the storyteller and Deaf patrons. Sarah Klenbort said storytelling becomes much more engaging and detailed through sign language, as it is a visual language and is also adept at describing space and movement.


By bringing colour and inspiration through the theatre from their eyes to each individual deaf person in a different way, being impacted emotionally and to feel accepted within the audience and to feel part of the experience!

– Sharon


Theatre interpreting has also raised awareness about the importance of sign language and making performing arts accessible to Deaf patrons. Melissa Malzkuhn (Director of Motion Light Lab, Gallaudet University) said the world is now curious about sign language. Providing interpreted performance empowers the Deaf community in the public sphere by educating others about the importance and beauty of sign language.


Auslan access enables participation. It allows you the opportunity to discuss and analyse and enjoy a performance with hearing peers and family. It allows you to stretch your mind and your understanding of the world. It provides opportunities to understand the context and emotions, if not the literal translation of a performance. To feel a part of a collective is vital for one’s mental, spiritual and emotional self. To feel you can question, think, debate and deconstruct just the same as everyone else is important. Arts is important for the soul and personal growth- every opportunity to allow people to feel, breathe; live, move etc to life itself is important. Auslan allows that bridge to be crossed.

– Marnie


Participation is crucial for the Deaf community within the public sphere so they are not left out of cultural experiences such as theatre. Sign language enables participation for Deaf patrons with the opportunity to discuss and enjoy performances with their family and friends. It’s important for theatre/performing arts organisations to establish a relationship with the Deaf community through interpreting agencies that specialise in theatre interpreting such as Auslan Stage Left. By participating in the audience during a performance, Deaf patrons are more aware of the nuances of human diversity thus becoming more accepting and empowered.


Deaf patrons are empowered when they are able to share the theatre experience with their hearing peers and family members. Theatre is and can be a cathartic experience, especially when they can relate to a particular act in the performance. Through theatre, we are temporarily transported to another world and we learn about life, love and other aspects of what makes us human. Most importantly, Deaf patrons are able to laugh, cry, be shocked and feel different emotions at the same time as hearing patrons in the audience.


Sign language simultaneously evokes concreteness, vividness, realness, and aliveness that spoken languages – if they ever had – had long since abandoned.

– Oliver Sacks


With provision of sign language interpreters, Deaf patrons are able to leave the theatre with the ability to reflect and discuss about the performance with their peers. This makes them feel empowered by having the ability to participate in a cultural and arts-based experience with everyone else.


Klenbort, S. 2014. Signed languages can do so many things spoken languages can’t. Retrieved on 30th August 2015 from


Malzkuhn, M. 2015. Traversing Technology: A Deaf Designed Visual Landscape. Presented at the XVII World Congress for the World Federation of the Deaf on 30th July 2015.


Sherrie Beaver is a perpetual student who is studying towards Master of International & Community Development at Deakin University. Relatively new to the world of theatre, she has enjoyed performances such as Wicked, Waiting for Godot and Shaky M. Sherrie is a self-confessed travel addict, Potterhead and bibliophile. As a passionate advocate for the Deaf community, she can be found blogging at

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