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Conveying mood important part of sign language at theater

With all the nuances that a person needs to pick up during the average play, I was intrigued when I saw 22-year-old Monty Quintanilla signing for a group of audience members at a recent Super Summer Theatre show.

The observers were glued to Quintanilla and his co-worker, but I thought, how can he possibly communicate the essence of the characters and story through sign language?

It winds up interpreting the dialogue is only one part of Quintanilla’s job. It’s up to him to suggest the nature of the characters and the mood of the whole piece. He needs to let his group members know immediately whether they’re watching a musical comedy or a tense thriller. Not so easy.

He does this through posture, expression and pacing. The speed and exaggeration in which his fingers move can mean a lot as far as the mood and plot. Quintanilla often sees plays a couple of times in advance before signing to get a feel for the show. “But,” he admits, “sometimes they tell us, ‘Hey, here’s a show we’re doing tomorrow, we don’t have a script for you, good luck.’ ”

What got Quintanilla so interested so early in life?

“I didn’t choose the profession,” he says. “It chose me. When I was 9 or 10, I met a deaf girl, who was raised orally (in a home with speaking parents). She got me involved in the deaf community. It was a whole new experience. I don’t think deaf people see themselves as disabled. Deaf is simply part of who they are.”

Quintanilla seems especially adept at plays. He has a music background (he’s currently a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and is a theater buff. But this is just one of his areas of expertise. He works conferences, educational programs and awards ceremonies. There, too, he uses posture to communicate more than mere words.

“An elementary school awards presentation would probably have a lighter touch than a major business conference,” he explains. “You have to suggest the setting and (tone) with something more than signing.”

Many of those who take advantage of the services do so through word-of-mouth. Super Summer Theatre announces on its website (supersummertheatre.org) when a signer or two will be present. And OhSoEZ.com keeps readers abreast of events and training opportunities throughout the nation. (In Las Vegas, one good place to start is the Deaf Studies Program at the College of Southern Nevada.)

One of the things that struck me when I approached Quintanilla at the theater to arrange an interview was that he never stopped signing and making eye contact with his group. Even though our conversation was about nothing more than when we could get together, he included his audience on our every word.

“I want to make sure they feel they are a part of the whole experience,” he says. “In life, most people choose what they want to hear. Deaf people may not want to ‘hear’ everything either, but by keeping them in on every conversation, you give them the choice.”

(Super Summer Theatre is currently presenting “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday through Aug. 25 at the Spring Mountain Ranch. Info: supersummertheatre.org.)

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat
@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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