HELENA — For thousands of Montanans with a hearing impairment, subtitles are one of the few ways they can consume media. However, that's not an option for live performances, like a play at Grandstreet Theatre in Helena.
So, Grandstreet Theatre is doing something different for its newest play, 'A Doll's House, Part 2,' by incorporating American Sign Language interpreters into one of its shows.
“Frankly, we should have been doing this a lot sooner,” said Jeff Downing, Creative Director for Grandstreet. "I think with a pretty minimal effort, we can hopefully make a pretty positive impact on the Deaf community here in Helena, and we're hoping that neighboring cities can benefit from this performance as well."
Downing has been with Grandstreet for a decade and said, while he's unsure if it's the first time in the theatre's history, it's the first time they will include ASL interpreters at a show during his tenure and was sparked by a member of the theatre.
“Mackenzie Jones, she was in Matilda, the last spring musical that we did a couple months ago. And she said, 'Hey guys, how about we work towards making this happen?'”
Jones, a performer for the theatre in her off time, works in disability and health and says she believes providing a service like interpreting for live theatre is a vital addition to the community and doesn't have to just be limited to ASL interpreters.
“I truly believe theater is a part of our mental wellness and our cultural and social well-being. So, being able to bring live theater to a group of individuals that might otherwise not be able to fully participate, whether it's through ASL interpreters, or maybe in the future having audio descriptions for people who are blind or low vision, or even having a sensory inclusive production that allows people with autism or other developmental disabilities to join in, is so important for reaching Montanans and bringing live theater to our community," said Jones.
While it's unknown if there are plans to include other methods of making live theatre more accessible at Grandstreet in the future, two ASL interpreters will be on stage with the cast for the theatre's Sept. 10 performance.
Dana Walls is one of the interpreters for the show and says this is a huge step in the right direction for the theatre towards making its productions more accessible to a variety of Montana communities.
"Access to the community obviously, is incredibly important. It's integral that people have the ability to enjoy the arts, regardless of how they identify," said Walls.
He also says, he hopes this is just the first step towards making live theatre more accessible.
"My white whale would be that we would interpret every performance that's offered, but in particular, the winter performance and the summer performance that tend to be a little more geared towards kid friendly. My goal would be that then the [Montana] School for the Deaf and Blind ... then would be able to load those kids up, bring them here, have the kids come see a full interpreted performance, and do a talkback afterwards. Possibly with the director or the cast, and ask any questions they have and again, get the youth interested and excited with theatre that's accessible for them in their language," said Walls.
For those interested in tickets with a view of the live ASL interpretation of 'A Doll's House, Part 2' that will take place on the left-hand side of the stage when viewing from the audience, tickets can be found on the Grandstreet Theatre's website.