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All photos courtesy of the NAC.

NAC’s Christmas Carol puts accessibility front and centre with ASL interpretation

By Hannah Manning on December 16, 2016

From December 13 to 31, the National Arts Centre (NAC) English Theatre will be performing the Dickens holiday classic A Christmas Carol.

All photos courtesy of the NAC.

All photos courtesy of the NAC.

The NAC is bringing together a cast from across the NAC worlds of theatre, music and dance. Adapted and directed by Jillian Keiley, Andy Jones stars in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Jack Volpe, a Montreal-based artist who is Deaf, and Bruce Horak, a Toronto-based artist who is legally blind, bring audiences into the story as the narrators, and also portray two of the spirits. The December 18th performances will include American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation.

Andy Jones and Dulcinea Langfelder. All photos courtesy of the NAC.

Andy Jones and Dulcinea Langfelder. All photos courtesy of the NAC.

This isn’t the first time the NAC has featured ASL interpretation and it certainly won’t be the last. In addition to The Christmas Carol, the upcoming presentation of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams will feature ASL interpretation. As the NAC says, they are continually striving to make theatre accessible to audiences. From their Share the Spirit program to ASL interpretation to more accessible seating and aisles in the newly redesigned Southam Hall, I’d say they’ve hit the mark.

As someone who loves attending theatre but has only a limited knowledge of Deaf culture, I was really interested to learn more. The NAC graciously arranged an interview with Deaf actor Jack Volpe and Interpreter Carmelle Cachero who is part of the team that will be interpreting the performance off-stage. The interview was interpreted by Jordan Goldman who will also be providing the on-stage interpretation for A Christmas Carol.

Jack Volpe and Andy Jones. All photos courtesy of the NAC.

Jack Volpe and Andy Jones. All photos courtesy of the NAC.

Jack, a self-proclaimed movie buff, was working as an ASL instructor when one of his students asked if he’d be interested in being involved in an organization called Seeing Voices Montreal. Jack joined as the playwright and director of a production that involved hearing and Deaf actors. Not long after, the Segal Centre in Montreal contacted Seeing Voices Montreal about a Deaf actor for an upcoming performance. With no previous acting experience or training, Jack auditioned and was cast in the role on the spot. The rest, as they say, is history.

Nigel Shawn Williams and Andy Jones. All photos courtesy of the NAC.

Nigel Shawn Williams and Andy Jones. All photos courtesy of the NAC.

Carmelle gave me a rundown of how an ASL interpretation works and explained that it can vary from performance to performance. For A Christmas Carol, the director decided that the interpreters would be off-stage, rather than on-stage shadow interpreting (following an actor as if you were their shadow). In the case of Jack and his role as the Narrator, Jordan will join him as an on-stage interpreter and will voice the lines that Jack delivers in ASL.

Similar to an accent coach, Jack has a Deaf consultant who works with him to decide upon the best signs to convey Dickens’ message. I asked how the NAC’s interpreters get around old-timey language, such as “bah humbug”. They have worked to break down the play and translate it into ASL, focusing on the writer’s purpose and intent. Rather than having to interpret on the spot, as Jordan did for us throughout the interview, the team has the ability to review the script beforehand.

Jack and Carmelle provided me with a wealth of information about ASL interpretation and the importance of including Deaf actors and interpreters to ensure authentic representation while supporting employment opportunities. The passion they share for making theatre accessible was clear. As Carmelle said, “the payoff is far greater than monetary, it’s something that you really have to be passionate about and really believe in and the end result is about accessibility for patrons”.

Kudos to the NAC for bringing this performance to life in Ottawa and a huge thank you to Jack, Carmelle, and Jordan for taking time out of their busy schedule preparing for opening night to meet with me.

Tickets are on sale now for the NAC’s A Christmas Carol with matinee and evening performances available December 13-31, 2016. Opening night is December 16 with a pay-what-you-can night December 13 and previews December 14 and 15. You can follow the NAC on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for more information.