September 2008 - November 2008: Issue 28
A Special Issue On Deaf Performing Arts


Access: Beth Prevor: Hands On

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Hands On Sign Language Interpreting for the Theatre
Beth Prevor, Executive Director

Smiling head shot of Beth Prevor.

Ms. Prevor has been working closely with Broadway and off-Broadway theatres for more than 25 years, providing state of the art theatre sign language interpreting support. In doing so, she successfully paved the way in access for deaf and hard of hearing theatregoers. Below is a glimpse of how Ms. Prevor does it.

First and foremost, we're small, smaller than most people think given how much we've been able to accomplish. We (Hands On) are primarily me, Beth, with a lot of outside help and support. Hands On is a full service organization. We're hired by theatres to produce all aspects of their interpreted performances. We hire the interpreters, interpreter directors, advisors and whoever would be needed to give support to the interpreters. We also do comprehensive audience development – we send out flyers advertising the show, take the reservations, act as liaison between the community and the theatre, handle the tickets, and in general do whatever it takes to make a successful interpreted performance. We do this with fees provided by the individual theatres – they're responsible for funding our services. This last point is very important, not only from an economic standpoint, but from a philosophical perspective. It is the theatre's responsibility both legally and ethically to be accessible to deaf and disabled audiences. That they hire us to help with these performances shows their commitment to provide services that will reach the intended audiences and be done so effectively. We then become a service of the theatre, not an outside program. This may be a small distinction, but it's an important one. It shows the theatre is willing to invest in their audiences with not just talk, but money.

When we started in 1982, we were very aware that an interpreted performance was more than just placing interpreters in the front of the audience. We were interested in looking at access as a 3-part plan – it is a relationship between the interpreters, the theatres and most importantly the audience. At different points in time, the balance shifts, but all 3 components must always be acknowledged. If any one part is neglected, the whole system suffers. If there is any one philosophy we have maintained, it's this important point.

Over the years, we have been conscious of the different needs of all our constituencies and tried to meet those needs. In 1994, because there was a void that needed to be filled, we instituted our Monthly Calendar of Cultural Events for the Deaf Community. The calendar became the first comprehensive listing of accessible cultural events in the area. It includes interpreting, captioning, deaf theatres – any event that's accessible and cultural. It's become our most popular and I would say one of our most important services. To be current, we maintain a website which lists the Calendar, all our interpreted performances and many links to community organizations and services.