Working with Deaf Artists

If you plan to engage Deaf artists on your project, we highly recommend you explore the Deaf Artists and Theatres Toolkit by Cahoots Theatre, which walks you through the entire process from start to finish. There is lots of important helpful information, including cultural context, budget templates and timelines.

The information below was generated by the facilitators and artists at the Woke 2.0 d/Deaf Jam workshop on November 5, 2018 in Toronto, ON with additional consultation provided by Sage Lovell at Deaf Spectrum. It is not an exhaustive list of resources, but rather a great springboard for discussion and further research.

Working with Interpreters

Interpretation should be considered as soon as a production is being created. You should contact an interpreter at least three months prior to the performance. Hearing interpreters have to be members of CASLI in order to work. CASLI is the Canadian Association of Sign Language Interpreters - formerly known as AVLIC (Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada). Many Deaf (especially Theatre Interpreters/performers) are not members of CASLI. Deaf Theatre Interpreters have a different scope of interpreting, as it is an artistic field for them. Therefore they require a different set of training, which includes theatre experience/training.

It is important to consider how much time is needed to rehearse and learn/translate the text, for both the actor and the interpreter. These things take time! Meet to discuss the project as early as possible with your interpreter(s) and provide them the script as soon as possible. This gives the interpreter time to study the material and get to know the show. When making adjustments to the script, make sure to provide updated copies to the interpreter and mark what has been changed throughout the process. To provide top-notch accessibility, Interpreters need access to watching the show, rehearsals, tech rehearsals, a full-run through with the show including interpretation to ensure full clarity and understanding of the show. The interpreters will need a video-recorded copy of the full run-through of the show as soon as possible. If the Deaf interpreter is working, you will have to have the video close captioned.

Remember that interpreting for live performance is also an art. The fees for this type of work are higher because of the complexity of the job. Many artists at our d/Deaf Jam agreed that any fee under $100/hour even for new interpreters is too low. A lot of interpreters do not charge hourly rates, but rather half day or full day fees. There is also a minimum two-hour booking time. This ensures that there is sufficient time to prepare and for the interpreter and client to engage before and after the event, rather than rushing around from assignment to assignment.

Talk to some interpreters to see what their fee is, and make it a high-priority budget line. Remember that producers have the power to decide where the money goes.

Another thing to consider when hiring an interpreter is diversity and representation. We learned during the D/deaf Jam that there is a disproportionate amount of hearing white women who work as interpreters. Remember, your Deaf or hearing audience will be looking to the interpreter to see/hear the story through their body and their voice. It is important to consider matching the interpreter to the actor/character to increase representation across the board. (i.e., BIPOC TO BIPOC, Trans to Trans).

“I hired an interpreter but no one came”
Recognize that hiring an interpreter does not mean that Deaf patrons will come to the show. Show promotion is required. Unless there was an initial conversation and it was built into their contract, Interpreters are not allowed to promote your show as per the CASLI code of Ethics - nor should they. That’s your job! Learn more about how to effectively market for Deaf audiences here.

If possible, offer more than one ASL performance. Limiting the number of ASL-interpreted events limits your audience.

Styles of Interpretation

First Page of Spoken Language Theatre Interpretation Styles Infographic Download our infographic on How to Make Spoken Theatre Accessible for Deaf Audiences by clicking here.

First Page of Sign Language Theatre Interpretation Styles Infographic Download our infographic on How to Make Sign Language Theatre Accessible for All Audiences by clicking here.

ASL Coaches & Directors of the Artistic of Sign Language (DASL)

An ASL Coach should be an expert at both ASL and theatre. Their role in a production is to help with the translation of a script from ASL to English and vice versa. They work closely with the director, playwright and dramaturge to provide clarity, insight, and help with adaptations and alterations. They also ensure that cultural references and ideas are communicated clearly in both languages. This person provides essential support for Deaf artists being an advocate for them during the creative process, and also being supportive to the Deaf artists so they can concentrate on learning their role. They should be invited into the process very early on, ideally at the very start of the creative process.

If one of your artists is also acting as the ASL Coach for a production, be sure to pay them an appropriate fee for the consultation work they are doing. This doubling down in roles and responsibilities is not recommended. It can put the artist in a compromising situation, as they may feel the need to advocate for themselves and their community.

ASL coaches may cost $50-$100/hr with a 2 hour minimum booking. They may also choose to book using half-day or full day rates. The fee is largely dependent on the ASL Coach. The ASL coach will know how to properly charge when it comes to their fees and expertise. It is best to ask them what their rate is and go from there.

Design and Tech

It is very important that designers incorporate accessibility into their design. This conversation should be had early and often as you work towards finalizing your design. Some important factors to keep in mind:


ASL is communicated using hand gestures and facial expressions. If it’s too dark people will be unable to see the signing. This makes lighting the interpreters and signing actors very important. Your lighting design should ensure that the faces, expressions, and hands of those signing can be seen clearly from all parts of the theatre. If you will be projecting the interpreter, the projection should be large and visible from all parts of the theatre. This allows deaf audiences to sit anywhere they want in the theatre, instead of up close to the interpreters (usually placed near the front of the house).


Surtitles need not be stationary - you can design “dynamic surtitles” that move around the screen following or mirroring the action and/or characters.

The surtitles themselves can be paced - like music. Engage with your Deaf artist(s) and interpreter in this process to ensure that the choice and presentation for surtitles works both artistically and practically.

Keep in mind placement.When interpreters are placed on the side or in front of the stage, Deaf audience members are limited to sitting quite close to the interpreters, which can also be a visibility issue. By making the projection of the interpreter very large, you allow Deaf audiences to sit wherever they wish to (the viewing capacity is almost similar to a movie theatre).


Signifiers such as colour schemes and props are often used to help identify characters and interpreters. Indicators such as hats, scarves, or colour schemes can help identify who is speaking when the interpreters are positioned off stage.

Booking an Interpreter

Deaf Spectrum offers coordination for booking interpreter services in the GTA area through a simple google form.



This page was last updated on: January 22 2019  

Created by kpalm. Last Modification: Tuesday October 22, 2019 12:02:05 EDT by kpalm.