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Community Spotlight: Guthrie Theater

Interview with Hunter Gullickson and Regina Daniels

7/7/2020 10:26:29 AM

Guthrie logo with the caption and interpreter icons

A conversation with Hunter Gullickson, the Accessibility Manager at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis; and Regina Daniels, the ASL Master working with Guthrie team interpreters for performances. Interviewed by Kaitlyn Mielke. 

Hunter, please share the history of accessibility at the Guthrie. When did the theater start providing access to Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of hearing audiences? How have the access options expanded over the years?

Hunter: The Guthrie began offering ASL interpreted performances in 1979 and the first assistive listening system was installed in 1984. Audio description for patrons who are blind or have low vision began in 1992, the Guthrie was a regional leader and provided the training for most of the describers in the area. The first open captioned performance was in 2007 and relaxed performances began in 2018. Relaxed performances are intended to be sensitive to and accepting of any audience member who may benefit from a more relaxed environment. Small modifications are made to performances, which may include reducing the volume of loud noises and effects, eliminating strobe lights, keeping the house lights on and having a relaxed attitude toward sound and movement in the audience.

Accessibility has been an organization value for decades and I feel that the Guthrie has continually worked to connect with various communities to make sure that programs and services are sustainable and maintain a high level of quality. These partnerships have led to the expansion of existing programs and creation of new ones. We have also used these connections to provide staff training, host community dialogues and offer mentoring and teaching opportunities for ASL interpreters and audio describers.

What types of access services are currently available for Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing audiences at the Guthrie?

Hunter: The Guthrie offers FM assistive listening devices for all performances. ASL interpreted and open captioned performances are offered for select performances, however both services are also available by request and can be added to additional performances. DeafBlind interpreting services are available by request as well so that we can match the appropriate interpreting needs and seating requests for the individual patron. We have magnification goggles and can send large print or electronic materials for patrons to help prepare for their visits. A schedule of performances is available on our website, and additional requests can be made through the box office. We request a two week notice, but will do our best to honor all requests and have done so with shorter lead times.

We currently hire teams of three interpreters for our ASL interpreted performances, this allows us to use a variety of options that can include hearing interpreters, Deaf interpreters and sign masters.

Regina, how did you join the Guthrie as ASL Master?

Regina: When I moved to Minnesota in 2017, I met Patty Gordon [an interpreter], and she was the one who introduced me to Hunter Gullickson at the Guthrie. I shared my previous experience with Hunter about working as an ASL Master and my work with Chicago theater companies. Since then, I began working with the Guthrie, and it's been going on three years now.

What are the responsibilities of an ASL Master?

Regina: My responsibilities as an ASL Master or as a consultant are to work with interpreters and read the scripts beforehand. The goal is to provide ASL translation for the audiences who come to see the show. The interpreters and I will see the show at least once or twice to examine the characters, the setting, and the overall vibe of the play. We’ll then discuss who will take which roles and how to put the script into a meaning-based interpretation. We also provide a pre-show for the audience members who use the interpreting services and discuss what the show is about and if they have any questions. We also create name signs to match the actors’ characters and style. Another responsibility is to promote the shows to the deaf community through social media, word of mouth, and share the updates with schools. I also mentor other ASL Masters who are interested in learning the ropes. After mentoring the ASL Masters, they will be able to take the lead on shows and work with the interpreters.

What does the translation process look like?

Regina: The translation process involves rehearsals where we review the scripts, find lines that will need cultural modification to be more readily understood. First we will view the show together and discuss the show overall, characters, and how to split the characters. Sometimes we will also immediately identify the characters’ name signs. Each script requires several practices where the interpreters will interpret a run-through of the script while the ASL Masters provide feedback to make sure it’s clear and accurate. For example, we don’t sign some smaller words like “yeah” or “oh”, instead we show it with facial expression and body movement. We often use classifiers if possible to provide a clear image of what they are saying between the lines.

Hunter, I understand that the Guthrie supports local arts organizations with opportunities to borrow equipment such as the captioning display and audio description equipment. How can organizations contact the Guthrie Theater for rental information?

Hunter: We strive to be a community asset and one of the ways we do this is by sharing our resources. We have captioning equipment, FM kits that can be used for audio description and language translation, and can also prepare Braille and large print materials for organizations. Email or visit the Guthrie website

What are your favorite parts of working at the Guthrie? Any memorable moments or stories you’d like to share?

Regina: There are so many memories that I love working with the Guthrie. I remember when I watched Guys and Dolls, I was in awe and so excited to work with the interpreters for the show. The interpreters were amazing and we all had so much fun translating the songs, and providing different approaches for the ASL interpretation. My first experience working as Deaf Interpreter with two amazing hearing Interpreters was Floyd’s. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to interpret the show instead of coaching the interpreters. I enjoyed hearing the feedback from deaf audiences who experience the joy and thrill of having someone who is able to translate well into ASL and bring the storyline alive for the audience. Every show I have done working with the Guthrie and the community there is amazing. I’ve felt like I am welcome there.

Hunter: My favorites all involve connections with people. With a tenure of 20+ years, the staff is very much like family to me and I have built meaningful friendships with service providers, patrons and volunteers. I think about the times that we had more than 75 visitors come from the American Council of the Blind national conference and more than 400 visitors from the Hearing Loss Association of America national conference, plus the scores of patrons coming to watch Tribes, a play about a character who is born deaf and raised to read lips without having any knowledge of sign language or Deaf culture. These were not simply milestones, but opportunities for people from around the globe to visit our space, enjoy a performance and provide vital feedback. There are incredible testimonies from patrons that previously felt alienated from the theater and discovered that our captioning service allowed them to attend and feel that enrichment of live performances again.

There have been so many people over the years who have shared their stories and wisdom. Three that stick out right now are women who have all passed away but have helped form much of the standards that I adhere to today. Caryl Barnett was blind and had a calm and loving nature. She would call frequently to provide guidance that showed by changing how we think about a particular issue, we could make things better for many people not only those who have vision loss. Lee Perish was Deaf and instilled in me the importance of holding services providers to the highest standards. You knew when she enjoyed something because she had a cackle you could hear for miles. Pam Truesdell initiated much of the accessibility programs at the Guthrie and ran the box office for many years. It’s from her that I learned how to truly listen to people and develop strong customer service skills.

What are some challenges or barriers you both have faced while working at the Guthrie?

Regina: I can’t recall if there are any barriers or challenges that I have faced while working at the Guthrie. I do know that finding the right interpreters and making sure the diverse representation is available for the audiences and to the interpreters are essential part of our work. We have used captions for every show, and sign language interpreters as well.

Hunter: I agree with Regina, a major challenge we face is representation within our ASL teams. We need to establish increased opportunities in the region for Deaf audiences to see interpreting teams that match identities displayed on stage.

I personally feel that we also need to continue to enhance our community outreach, finding ways for patrons to participate in additional programming the Guthrie offers, hiring more people with disabilities and continuing to find ways to make it easier for people to feel welcome. Theater arts are essential to so many and it is our job to make the connection possible and not force people to have to advocate for better accessibility so that they can participate.

What does the future of theater accessibility look to you both? What’s next on the access agenda for the Guthrie?

Hunter: The future holds many opportunities. There are organizations and consortiums forming locally and nationally that are working together to help identify and break down barriers that still exist and provide opportunities for artists with disabilities to showcase their talents. I also see progress occurring in web accessibility. Whenever we can get back to producing plays at the Guthrie, I am looking forward to robust conversations with interpreters and sign masters to continue our work of defining roles and finding opportunities to connect with the community.

Regina: In the future, I hope to see more deaf and hard of hearing communities continue to come and see the shows while we offer ASL and captions for them. I feel like the next step is really listening and hearing from the audiences to see what they need and hope the Guthrie provides. As an ASL Master, next on my agenda is to become more involved with the community such as providing workshops, training, and mentoring to those who enjoy theater. I remember when I provided a workshop/presentation at the Guthrie for one of the programs, and I was surprised to meet those who shared the same interests. It was also good to see Deaf or Hearing interpreters coming together to let us know how we can encourage them to continue to grow and improve as interpreters. That was such a good experience, I think doing that again would be a good start to building a stronger network with the communities.

About the Guthrie

The Guthrie Theater has received a number of awards, including the MN Association of Deaf Citizens Community Award, Governor’s Award: Technology Related Assistance for People with Disabilities and the VSA Arts and Metropolitan Life Foundation national award. The Guthrie was also the host site for the Kennedy Center’s Leadership Exchange for Arts and Disability (LEAD) conference in 2007 in partnership with VSA MN and the MN State Arts Board.

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