Blumenthal is committed to making theater accessible to everyone

Since 1995, Blumenthal has translated certain performances for the hearing impaired. This includes a Sunday matinee for every Broadway Lights event.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Beginning Tuesday, July 26, the Tony Award-winning play “To Kill a Mockingbird” will be performed at the Belk Theater in Uptown Charlotte.

The 24-person cast includes deaf actor Anthony Natale as Link Deas. Natalee has spent his life on stage and screen, playing non-traditional roles across the country.

“It’s only right that we as deaf people be able to play any role that doesn’t have to be traditionally deaf,” Natale said. “It’s a great way for the audience to see how important it is to showcase deaf skills and that we can create a caring character.

Natale uses American Sign Language (ASL) in his role and hopes it will inspire deaf audiences to audition for hearing roles, adding, “In the ’70s and ’80s, the typical traditional role was aligned with the traditional role. [actors], but now skin color, disability, doesn’t matter anymore. It’s increasingly focused on the story itself. “

This month’s performance won’t be the first time the Blumenthal Center for the Performing Arts has used ASL, as it has served the deaf or visually impaired for decades.

Since 1995, Blumenthal has translated certain performances for the hearing impaired. This includes a Sunday matinee for every Broadway Lights event.

Anita Baker has translated more than a dozen shows at Blumenthal and says it all started with her at Central Piedmont Community College.

“I decided to take an American Sign Language class just to see if I could tell the truth and get a simple A, which wasn’t easy. As I became more and more engrossed in deaf culture, I noticed how it interacted with me of minority cultures,” she said.

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That class led her to take more classes, which eventually became her major. After earning a degree in educational interpreting from the University of Northern Colorado, she returned to Charlotte and became Director of Interpretation at Sorenson Communications.

It takes about seven years to master the language, so the nerves of the stage are nonexistent, Baker said.

“I’ve been preparing for this show for weeks, sometimes as long as two months, because I’ve seen it before; I’m ready,” Baker added.

While she’s confident, Baker says it still requires a fair amount of preparation.

Blumenthal usually says that two or three interpreters will work with each production. They watch the show on Tuesday or Wednesday night and must be ready to sign for the show on Sunday afternoon. Facial expressions and body movements are key components of ASL, the center said. For musicals, interpreters use their entire bodies to convey the song to the audience.

For Blumenthal’s ASL Interpretation Sunday matinee, the interpreter is usually in the house in the former orchestra section to sign. Interpreters will attempt to meet deaf or hard-of-hearing audience members in the theatre prior to the performance to ensure they can understand each other.

This fall will mark the 20th anniversary of Blumenthal’s introduction of description services to visually impaired customers.

“We have someone who has no vision and is recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act, who has the right to communicate equally and effectively,” said Julia Sain, the center’s first audio narrator. “She couldn’t see the show. It wasn’t equal. So she talked to the director at the time. The guy said, ‘How can we do this.'”

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Sain was doing other work in the community at the time and worked with Blumenthal on a plan. Her first performance as an audio narrator was “Dancing King.” Since then, Thane has described about 125 shows.

Audio narrators work in pairs to provide a continuous verbal description of the program to the blind or visually impaired. Every listener wears headphones, so no other customer can hear the description. The process of describing the show began three weeks before the show came to Charlotte. Audio descriptors do their own research before getting their hands on the script. That’s when they’ll start preparing their four parts.

Describer Julia Sain walks us through how the process works.

Sain says it takes about a year to become an audio narrator at Blumenthal. Once you have completed approximately 14 hours of classwork, you must do an internship for one season. During that time, trainees wrote notes for previews and halftime while listening to descriptions from the performance. By then, one intern had heard or played about a dozen shows and would be part of their team, Saine said.

The Blumenthal Center for the Performing Arts is supported by the Charlotte nonprofit Disability Rights and Resources. If you have questions about audio descriptions or want to become an audio description writer, you can learn more on their website.

Natale said it was a freedom for many disabled people to be able to go to the theater. The free service is an opportunity for everyone, including listening audiences, because “it’s an eye-opener for you to see this art of language and sign language being delivered,” he said.

In addition to ASL interpretation and audio descriptions, Blumenthal also provides closed captioning services for select Broadway shows at the Belk and Knight Theaters. Using the GALAPRO app, customers can see subtitles directly on their mobile phones. The app is used in 12 Broadway theaters, and Charlotte is one of the first cities outside New York to offer the service for free.

Natalee, who has performed across the country, said subtitles can be a win-win for people who are hearing, deaf or hard of hearing.

“They miss conversations, distractions or whatever is going on around them,” Natale added. “With subtitles, they can see it and then see it on stage.”

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