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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Stage Hands Productions for Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing

March 11, 2012

JONESBOROUGH, TN — Stage Hands' productions are a labor of love for director Janette Gaines, who started the group four years ago at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre.

Stage Hands uses both spoken English and American Sign Language to communicate dialogue while acting out each play. The ensemble uses a technique called shadow interpreting, placing interpreters on stage with the actors. More than just interpreting, they interact with the characters in the show and become characters themselves.

"Stage Hands is very important to me," says Gaines. "Over the years I have watched my hard-of-hearing daughters miss out on so much in the area of entertainment, including movies, live theatre and more."

She describes how much is missed for her Deaf friends because they must wait to find out what is happening on stage by watching the interpreter on the floor: "Producing shows like this provides an opportunity for these community members to have equal access to live theatre. I want them to have the same exposure to these wonderful stories and I want them to be enjoyable. By using the shadow interpreting technique, as well as incorporating the interpreters as characters within the play, I believe I have accomplished this."

Stage Hands celebrated its premier performance on May 6, 2008, with Aesop's Fables at The Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development at ETSU and at the Mountain Empire Baptist Deaf School in Bristol, Tenn. Later that year, the group presented The Firebird by Even Guildford-Blake at Jonesborough Repertory Theatre. Other shows include 2009's The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy by Allen Meyer & Michael Nowak and 2010's Mye and The Sandpeople by Celeste Bonfanti.

The current production is The Arabian Nights by Lowell Swortzell. Adapted from "The Entertainment of a Thousand and One Nights," the play tells the story of Scheherazade and her marriage to a cruel Sultan who marries a different woman each day and then kills her. To save her life and the lives of all the maidens in the kingdom, Scheherazade tells part of a story and leaves it to be continued the next day.

The cast of The Arabian Nights will perform Scheherazade's "Speaking Bird" story in a way that can only be done by JRT's Stage Hands productions. "It is my goal that all audience members enjoy The Arabian Nights and leave with an understanding of just how powerful storytelling can be," says Gaines.

The cast of The Arabian Nights includes actors of multiple cultures, ages and abilities some hearing and some hard-of-hearing. They communicate using voices, sign language and dance. "This cast is truly a melting pot of talents and backgrounds," Gaines notes. "That diversity has made for an enriched performance and much more full interpretation of the production."

The Arabian Nights runs through March 18, 2012 with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays — Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets are $14 general admission ($12 for students and seniors, with a special rate of $9 for groups of 15 or more). To purchase tickets, 423-753-1010 or visit