Shows / Tribes

Closing the Communication Gap: Interview with ASL Interpreter Dawn Caudill

American Sign Language interpreter Dawn Caudill has been a theatrical interpreter for Ensemble Theatre for ten years and while she’s not on stage, she definitely plays a major role in ETC’s production of Tribes. Tribes is about Billy, a deaf young man who was brought up in a hearing family. The story deals with different communities and the complexity of language and communication. Not only will Dawn interpret live performances of the show, but she also worked diligently with the two actors playing Billy (Dale Dymkoski) and Sylvia (Kelly Mengelkoch) to teach them sign language for the production. She spoke with us about her experiences working on the show and about her career as an interpreter.

ASL interpreter Dawn Caudill.

ASL interpreter Dawn Caudill.

Q: Tell us about how you started interpreting and your first experience with sign language.

A: I learned the manual alphabet from my uncle when I was in third grade. Much later, as a freshman in college, I answered a job posting to do light cooking and cleaning for an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Little did I know that answering that job posting would change my life. The elderly gentleman, Bob, was Deaf and used American Sign Language to communicate. I was leery about taking the job at first, since I didn’t know sign language, but with some encouragement from Bob and his family, I took the job. I was a sponge. Bob taught me sign language, as I helped him with daily tasks. I worked with him for nine wonderful months, and then he died. The day he died, I changed my major to Deaf Education/Interpreting and never looked back! Here I am over 30 years later. I have been an interpreter for 28 years, and a teacher of sign language for 27 years.

Q: What has been the best and most challenging part about working as an interpreter for Tribes?

A: The best part is being so involved with the production from the beginning. Everyone, from the Artistic Director to the interns, has been so wonderful and welcoming. I have been a part of the ETC family as a theatrical interpreter for 10 years, but this production has taken it to a new level and I have loved every minute of it.

A challenging part of interpreting this play is the timing. Because the actors are, at times, signing on stage, we want to make sure we are not signing at the same time as the stage signing. So my signing partner, Gail Maue, and I have to time our signing just right to be able to reference the stage when the actors sign. It has taken more practice, but it is well worth it!

Q: What is the most difficult part about working as an interpreter?

A: It is a huge responsibility to facilitate communication between Deaf individuals and hearing individuals that don’t sign. Language is such a powerful and complex tool used to communicate. Translating from one language to another, processing words and phrases with multiple meanings, figurative language, nuances, and subtleties, make interpreting a challenge. That responsibility, and the drive to keep improving, should never be taken lightly. A presenter—Deaf or hearing—is only as good to the target audience as the interpreter facilitating that communication. I take that task very seriously and constantly try to improve my linguistic and interpreting knowledge and skill.

Q: In your experience, are there separate communities in Deaf Culture?  

A: There are definitely different types of people within Deaf Culture and the Deaf community. Some use ASL; some use more English-based signs and structure (PSE or contact signing); some wear hearing aids or have cochlear implants; some live in places heavily populated with Deaf people, and others may be the only Deaf in their area. Some people socialize and group themselves together because of those commonalities. Many Deaf are very welcoming and supportive of anyone who calls themselves Deaf and wants to be a part.

Q: You taught Kelly Mengelkoch and Dale Dymkoski (Sylvia and Billy, respectively) how to sign for the show Tribes. What is it like teaching someone who is new to sign?

A: Dale and Kelly are the best students ever! They are both hard workers, and I am so lucky to have the opportunity to work with them. They have natural talent in gesturing, dexterity and hand-eye coordination, along with a lot of practice. It was a perfect combination for success.

In general, if someone is excited about learning sign language, and is dedicated to practicing and the process of learning a new language and mode, it is a joy to teach!

Q: What is the hardest part about learning sign?  

A: If a person is learning ASL, and not signed English on the hands, the toughest part is the structure and choosing the right signs for the right concepts. Signing can also be challenging because there is almost always more than one right sign for a given concept, and different areas of the country have regional signs.

Q: Why do you think this show is important?

A: Different people will walk away from the show with different benefits. It is a very powerful story about love, but it is also a story about isolation, being a part of a minority group, and how the majority group accommodates or doesn’t. I hope a lot of hearing families with Deaf family members will attend. I think this play does a great job of helping to show the Deaf person’s perspective on inclusion, and could spark thoughtful conversations that may not have previously taken place in those households. I think many Deaf people will enjoy the play; many I have spoken to are looking forward to it, and say they can relate to the Deaf character. Anyone who is learning sign language or is a part of the Deaf or Interpreting Community will enjoy the signing and the subject matter.

About Dawn Caudill: Dawn has been involved in the field of interpreting in numerous capacities for more than 28 years.  She has worked as an educational interpreter, freelance interpreter, interpreter coordinator and interpreter educator during her career.  She is currently the chairperson and professor at Cincinnati State’s Interpreter Training Program. Her undergraduate work was in bible, interpreting and deaf education.  Her graduate work is in business administration and ASL linguistics. She currently interprets in the community and also specializes in theatrical and conference interpreting.  She has been a theatrical interpreter for Ensemble Theater for more than ten years and loves being a part of the family. She is married to the love of her life, Jason, and they have two sons (some refer them as “dogs”).

Tribes plays at Ensemble Theatre through Sunday, February 16, 2014.  For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

3 thoughts on “Closing the Communication Gap: Interview with ASL Interpreter Dawn Caudill

  1. Pingback: Terrell Brittain Advocates for Deaf Renters | deafinprison

  2. Great article. I will be attending the play this evening. I can’t wait to see the ASL concepts used and experience the story from the deaf person’s perspective.

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