Becoming the Tornado: Part of the Job for American Sign Language Interpreters

Lightning flashes on stage as tornadoes (in the form of colorful, inventively costumed actors) twist and writhe to an intense, frenetic beat. Terrified Dorothy, the main character in the First Stage production of The Wiz, is suddenly swept up into threatening, turbulent skies. Deaf and hard of hearing children rely on professional American Sign Language interpreters to accurately depict highly charged scenes like this during theater performances.

“Our job is to show Dorothy’s fear on our hands and with our body,” said interpreter Angela Hoag. “We become the sound of the atmosphere, the wind – we become the tornado – so deaf kids can experience the play the way hearing kids can,” she said.

First Stage offers one interpreted performance for each play every season, usually on the last public performance during each show’s run. Generally, two HEAR Wisconsin interpreters can be found next to the stage on the right. HEAR Wisconsin interpreters will serve First Stage throughout the upcoming 2019 season.

How did CommLink start?

In 1999, the South Eastern Wisconsin Center for Independent Living (SEWCIL) opened an interpreting division. It's name? The Interpreting Department. 

A year later, in 2000, The Interpreting Department broke away from SEWCIL to join with the Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CDHH), one of HEAR Wisconsin's many old names. : Today CommLink has both full-time and part-time interpreters, and as our clientele grows, our need for more interpreters continues to grow also.

What does it take to join CommLink? Lots of training! Sign language interpreting is a Bachelor-level degree, including a minimum of two years in an interpreter training program. You must also fulfill certification and licensing requirements. 

But is it worth it? Yes, absolutely! Our interpreters work everyday to ensure people can communicate with one another during doctor's appointments, business meetings, and many other settings. Interpreters are right in the middle of all those interactions helping people connect.