Written by Audrey Ryan (intern)
The language of the Australian Deaf Community is Auslan (Australian Sign Language). The majority of Deaf Australians speak it as their first language. It is a highly visual language that communicates using body language, increased facial expressions, and signals. Auslan interpreters convey meaning from spoken English into Auslan and vice versa and may be either simultaneous or consecutive.
Auslan Stage Left is a non for profit organization that “enables and provides access for the Deaf Community to theatre and the arts. Quality theatre trained Auslan interpreters and deaf consultants work alongside our loyal team to ensure that each event is an immersive, engaging and accessible theatre and arts experience. We are dedicated to the training of interpreters and deaf consultants in the area of theatre interpreting, and we are proud of our commitment to the Deaf and Interpreting Community, to the arts industry and to the awareness of the beautiful sign language – Auslan.” (Auslan Stage Left, 2023)
When it comes to signing in live environments, nonmanual markers are vital in conveying instrumental sounds. This is the expression that happens in their face and body. The hard of hearing community is made up of a spectrum of people with a wide range of residual hearing. Different frequencies are heard by different people. So, interpreters for many years have ignored the instruments and focused on the spoken language. This is where interpreters incorporate nonmanual markers to convey the frequency of an instrument: thick and ‘bassy’ notes as opposed to high and ‘tinny’ notes. This then gives the hard of hearing an opportunity to imagine and understand the tonality of the track.
We had the privilege of interviewing Celeste Di Pietro from Auslan Stage Left and spoke to her about her career so far in the events industry.
What made you initially learn Auslan?
“I didn’t grow up in a family with deaf people. My family are all hearing, so I haven't come into the language natively. The earliest exposure I can remember was through music. I remember seeing an interpreter when I was watching a Spice Girls' concert for my birthday.”
What got you into the music industry and what were the steps that you took to get where you are today?
“In Auslan interpreting there's no sort of really laid out specific career pathways. I knew from the start that I wanted to do music events, because I'm very musically inclined. I grew up kind of being a music nerd, obsessed with learning about the background of musicians with why they wrote that song. I wasn't the most amazing guitarist in the world, but I could play a bit of Hendrix. As soon as I decided I was going to be an interpreter I started going out to everything interpreted that had music. So, if there were interpreters at the theater which at the time was quite new, I would go to that. I was flying to different states to go and see things interpreted. Just putting yourself into those spaces and getting comfortable in those spaces. That's what I did.”
Are you connected to an agency, or do you freelance your work?
“My music work is through Auslan Stage Left.”
Why do you think these there is a lack of auslan interpreters in the event industry?
“I would say it is quite a new thing here in Australia. A lot of advocacy work that went into having it start here and I think a lot of that can be credited to everyone that works at Stage Left: Susan and Medina for example and everyone who set it up from the start. They did a lot of work to get the arts community to have Auslan access.
Music interpreting for large scale events sort of to my knowledge in Australia only started just before COVID and COVID sort of put a bit of a halter on it. I do think COVID made people a bit more aware of Auslan as language and deaf people needing access to information signed. We saw a bit of a switch in the mindset of the general population, so I think that for us and the Deaf community it has been a really good positive change.”
“But there is also generally speaking quite a shortage of Auslan interpreters.”
How should someone enter this profession?
“There's lots of courses out there, and courses at the moment that are free due to a government initiative, so it's a great time to be willing to learn. It is really great to make sure that your teacher is a deaf person themselves. That is the biggest hot tip I can give anyone that wants to start. My teachers are all Deaf and I'm eternally grateful for that because I don't think there's any way that I would have been able to have the opportunities that I've had. With the people I've been able to work with and meet all the amazing people. They really taught me such a rich understanding of the language and their culture, so I think that that is the most important thing someone can do if they want to genuinely want to work in space.
If you want to join the music industry, I think the best thing to do is go to the events, because there's a lot of work involved. And I think if you haven't seen it, you can't really grasp what's involved or how much exertion there is. I think it really depends on exposure for language learning.”
What makes you the most excited to do your job?
“The conviction between the Deaf attendees and the artists themselves. That's what gets me really excited. For example, there was a time where you get the general hearing audience and they'll all start singing along with the artist, and then you get the Deaf audience will start signing your signs back. That is what makes it exciting for me just seeing that equal participation.”
How far in advance do you get the set list?
“That’s a $1,000,000 question! It really depends on whether it's an independent artist or a big artist. It can go from anywhere from a month before to 30 minutes before, and sometimes you don't get it at all. In that scenario, I just Google what they played last time, and I can kind of assume.”
In conclusion, Auslan interpreters play an essential role in ensuring the Deaf community has access to live music events. Auslan Stage Left is a non-profit organization that has been pivotal in advocating for Auslan access in the arts industry. While there is a shortage of Auslan interpreters, Celeste Di Pietro from Auslan Stage Left encourages those interested in pursuing a career in interpreting to immerse themselves in the Deaf community and take advantage of the free courses available. The positive change brought on by COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of access to information for the Deaf community and with the help of organizations such as Auslan Stage Left, progress is being made towards a more inclusive and accessible world for all.