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Pantages Theatre Offers ASL Interpreting and Open Captioning for All Shows

Many of the shows at the Pantages involve singing, with which patrons with hearing loss need help to follow along.
Many of the shows at the Pantages involve singing, with which patrons with hearing loss need help to follow along.
Courtesy of Pantages Theatre

Pantages’ production, The Addams Family, was a huge hit even on a Tuesday night. “It’s very crowded here for a Tuesday night,” Elisabeth Kealy of Los Angeles said. Kealy doesn’t visit the Pantages often, and she can understand speech with her hearing aids.

“Most of the shows at Pantages Theatre are musicals,” John Arce, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter said. Arce and Francine Stern, another ASL interpreter, have interpreted shows at the Pantages Theatre for 12 years since Pantages first premiered Disney’s musical, The Lion King. However, they both have been working as a team for over 25 years in the Los Angeles area.

The Pantages Theatre offers one interpreted performance for the run of the show, Arce said. However, for long running shows, like Wicked, Arce and Stern interpreted the show 13 times in a year, since the show was a year long as opposed to the typical two-week time frame for other shows,” Arce said. “We interpreted Wicked every six weeks throughout the year,” Stern said.

“I needed to rely on the interpreters to understand the words in the songs especially when singing is involved,” Kealy said. Kealy has visited the Pantages theatre a few times.
Deaf people like Kealy are very visual, so The Addams Family production carried a very strong visual aspect—the characters Gomez (Douglas Sills), Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger), Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond), Grandma (Pippa Pearthree), Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson), Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy), and Lurch (Tom Corbeil) would often dance and move together in tune to the rhythm of the music that the orchestra played. ASL interpreters try to show music to patrons who can’t hear well by using a few tools: facial expression, body language, and expressive sign language, Stern said.

Speaking of the characters, the interpreters try to show each of the character’s personality and affect by trying to match their emotions, voice, and personalities, Stern said. For instance, Gomez is madly in love with his wife, but his wife is mad at him. “You lied to me again!” Morticia would say repeatedly. Pugsley tries to become a big boy by saying that his sister Wednesday no longer bugs him. “My sister is having an identity crisis!” Uncle Fester is eager to go off to the moon. “I’m in love with the moon!” There were even ghosts who played as ancestors of The Addams Family, who danced and sang with the family members.

“The show was cute, and I liked the fun costumes,” Kealy said. “The show had a good sense of humor, and I liked the ghosts, the visuals, and the dancing.” Kealy has been to other musicals but she fell asleep at those because of their low visual aspect.
The show was roughly two hours long, so the interpreters can’t memorize the entire script so they would watch the show before interpreting for the patrons, Arce said. “We can’t memorize the script, but we preview the show and do a lot of rehearsal, preparation and translating,” Arce said. However, they can look at the script during the play in front of them as needed. “The interpreters did a good job interpreting,” Kealy said. The interpreters split up songs, characters, and the solos, but will work together during duets, Arce said. They also hear through ear phones when they interpret.

Sounds heard during the show were as follows: constant laughter in the audience, thunderstorms, snapping fingers, clapping, singing voices by both groups and solos, and even a boom! Reminscient of the 1990s film, the setting on stage looked dark and spooky with the big moon hovering over the creepy-looking mansion.

The interpreters have a designated spot beside the stage at stage level, Stern said. If deaf or hard of hearing patrons sit in their designated section of the orchestra, they are able to see the interpreters and the show, Stern said.

Patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing can visit the Pantages Theatre website at to submit requests for seating and pricing options for performances with ASL interpreting or open captioning, Stern said. The next Pantages show will be The Million Dollar Quartet, and the open captioned show will be on June 27.


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