The Playhouse San Antonio reaches out to deaf audiences with signed performances


Sign language bringing deaf community to The Playhouse

By Deborah Martin STAFF WRITER

Robert Cardoza Jr. and Claudia Flores practice signing before the start of “The Christmas Carol” at The Playhouse. Slow shutter speed emphasizes movement used in American Sign Language.

Robert Cardoza and Karen Elliot weren’t cast in The Playhouse San Antonio staging of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but they will play an important role in the show on Saturday.

Thanks to a partnership between the theater and San Antonio College, Cardoza and Elliot will be stationed in their own spotlight at stage left that evening, offering American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation for hearing impaired audience members.

“They’re really learning that hands-on theater interpretation, which a lot of people don’t ever get to experience,” said Lauri Metcalf, chairwoman of the American Sign Language and Interpreter training program at SAC.

This is the second time in recent memory that the Playhouse has included a signed performance in a show’s run. The first was “A Christmas Carol” in December. The plan is to have one signed performance for each of the shows that play in the Russell Hill Rogers space upstairs.

For each performance, an intern from the SAC program is paired with a certified instructor. They attend rehearsals and also pore over the script together, figuring out how to translate what’s happening on the stage into sign language. They also attended a performance to make sure they know what’s going on behind them while they’re signing.

“What sign language is, is a concept of what’s being said,” Cardoza said. “So we have to take those lines and make them into a concept.”

That can be tricky. One song in “Superstar” is built around the blood money that Judas is offered in exchange for his betrayal of Jesus.

“You hear ‘blood money’ and you know that’s money that’s given to somebody for either killing somebody or turning somebody in,” Cardoza said. “In ASL, if you sign ‘blood money,’ that doesn’t make sense. So we have to go with the concept of what that means.”

Later in the show, characters chant “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Cardoza and Elliot have worked to come up with a sequence that captures the deeper meaning of the scene.

Hearing people, Cardoza said, “can hear the intonation of the singers, how they’re singing and the intensity of it. But if we’re just signing ‘crucify him!’ the deaf person is going to see ‘a cross, a cross, a cross.’ We have to expand on that for it to make sense.”

Cardoza is a musical theater buff who knew the score inside and out going into the project.

“It’s one of my favorite shows,” he said. “But even at that, I had to analyze it. I could sing the whole score, but when you sit down and analyze the lyrics, there’s some pretty deep stuff in there. It takes a lot of work to do that.”

Students in SAC’s ASL program routinely interpret performances by the school’s theater program, so those who come to work on Playhouse shows have a sense of what to expect. That was the case for Claudia Flores, the student who worked beside Cardoza on “A Christmas Carol.” But the situation at The Playhouse was more intense.

“We had deaf (people) at The Playhouse (performance), so it was more of a real deal there,” said Flores, who is slated to graduate in May. “Our interpretation was crucial because of our deaf clients that were there. We got rave reviews from them. They were very grateful that we provided that service for them.”

Cardoza and Flores hope more theaters will begin offering signed shows.

“There’s baby steps, and this is a good one,” Flores said. “This is a good door to open.” [email protected] Twitter: @DeborahMartinEN


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