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Music, Story and Poetry in Motion

July 18, 2008

By Catherine Idzerda, The Janesville Gazette, Wis.

Jul. 18–JANESVILLE — What does happiness look like?

How about musical rhythm?

Or poetry that you can’t see on the page or hear spoken?

Katherine Fager, Janesville, has spent the past week struggling with those esoteric questions, but by Saturday afternoon she’ll have all the answers.

Fager is a sign language interpreter. At 2 p.m. Saturday, she’ll be providing sign language interpretation for the SpotLight on Kids/footlights productions musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Her job is to translate the dialogue, music and energy of the show. It’s not like translating a couple written paragraphs from English into another language.

That would be a cakewalk compared to this.

“American Sign Language (ASL) is a language of its own, with its own idioms,” Fager explained.

Certainly, an English word can be spelled out in sign, but ASL signs can be either a words or concepts.

Then there’s the music, with its rhythms, emotion and lyrics.

How does she do it?

For the past week, Fager has been rehearsing with the 70-member cast, studying the script and perfecting her timing.

“I’ve been working on the scrip to make it as ASL as possible,” said Fager. “The lyrics are like poetry–and that’s a whole craft in itself.”

For example, in the opening song, Joseph describes a dream he had. It begins with, “I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain.”

Fager looked for the literal meaning of the words–”I’m going to sleep and having a wonderful dream”–and the emotional feeling of them. Then she picked an ASL sign that displayed “I’m going to sleep and there’s a wonderful dream coming.”

Throughout the week, Fager performed such translations on more than 20 short songs. To give deaf audience members a sense of tempo and energy, she changes the rhythm of her signing.

Expression is crucial for meaning, too.

“Part of the language is facial; my face is part of the grammar,” Fager said.

Another challenge is timing:

“I want to make sure everyone in the audience is laughing at the same time,” Fager said.

This is the second year Spotlight has employed a sign language interpreter for its summer show.

Last year, one of the girls in the show “Honk!” had deaf parents, so an interpreter was hired.

Although the actress didn’t return this summer, SpotLight’s board members decided it was something they needed to do.

“It’s part of our mission to make theater accessible to everyone,” said Stacy McNall, board director and show director. “We all agreed that it was a way of opening up a theater opportunity.”

IF YOU GO

What: SpotLight on Kids/footlights production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. A sign language interpreter will be available for the 2 p.m. Saturday show.

Where: Janesville Performing Arts Center, 408 S. Main St., Janesville.

Cost: Tickets are $14 for adults and $8 for children. The 2 p.m. Saturday show will be a “pay what you can” performance. However, those tickets are available only at the door before show time and are based on ticket availability.

For more information: Call (608) 758-0297 or go to www.janesvillepac.org.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Janesville Gazette, Wis.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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