By Lexie Broemmer
Growing up, Katherine Rathgeber had a friend who was deaf, and because she wanted to be able to talk to her, Rathgeber began to teach herself sign language.
Since the two went to school together, Rathgeber was able to watch her friend’s interpreter during classes. This experience made her realize that she was passionate about sign language.
Now a senior at Quincy University, Rathgeber will graduate in May as a Sign Language Interpreting and Theology double major, but not before she takes part in the Quincy Community Theatre’s production of “Tarzan” as a shadow interpreter.
Though Rathgeber has done some theatrical interpreting before—for instance, in QU’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” she’s never been a part of something like “Tarzan.”
“Normally, the interpreters are off to the side of the stage and only interpret for one performance,” she said. “This is the first time anything like this has happened in Quincy.”
Rathgeber’s right–QCT’s version of “Tarzan,” which opens tonight, is the first of its kind, combining American Sign Language with the music, dialogue and choreography of the play. In fact, Jane Meirose, who is the director of QU’s interpreting training program as well as an instructor for the program, said that because the show has never been done in sign language before, QCT had to get permission from Disney and Phil Collins, who wrote the music and lyrics for Disney’s film adaptation of “Tarzan,” in order to put on the show.
Meirose also said that Disney and Collins were intrigued by the concept of the play.
“‘Tarzan’ will be performed so it is completely accessible for Deaf and hearing audiences. Some of the characters in Tarzan speak their lines and have a shadow interpreter follow them around to interpret their lines into ASL,” Rathgeber said. “Other actors sign their lines and then have a voice interpreter follow them to voice their lines. The whole show incorporates sign language into the dancing and choreography and every single actor signs at some point during the show.”
The nature of the production creates awareness and acceptance for the deaf community.
“It opens people’s minds and hearts to others. This show is all about communication and accepting everyone’s differences–that we are different but also the same–so we use a lot of those signs, the songs are about that,” Meirose said. “All the apes sign, so Tarzan signs in the beginning, but then he meets Jane, and he remembers English. There’s a transition there where he’s learning English, and she’s learning sign (language), so then she signs more.”
All together, the play will feature three QU interpreting students– Micki Brehe, who will shadow for the character Porter; Taylor McCollough, who will shadow for Jane; and Rathgeber, who will shadow for Clayton and Snipes.
A lot of hard work has gone into “Tarzan.”
“This has been a learning experience for all of us. There is one deaf actor, and this is his first time participating in a theater production. For many of the student actors, it is their first exposure to sign language,” Rathgeber said. “It has been so amazing to see how everyone has come together and how ASL has been integrated into the show so that the viewing experience for hearing and Deaf audiences is essentially the same.”
Because of the inexperience of so many of the actors, who ranged in age from third grade to high school, Meirose had to step in and teach them ASL. She also had to help the deaf actor learn the interpretations used in the production.
For Rathgeber, being involved in “Tarzan” has been a wonderful experience.
“It was a little overwhelming at first, coming back from Christmas break, and jumping into rehearsals and trying to combine the interpreting stuff I know with the theater stuff I didn’t really know, but I have absolutely loved being part of ‘Tarzan.’ Everyone in the cast is so supportive, joyful, helpful and open to learning, and the director and creative team have been great. I am so thankful for this opportunity,” she said.
“Tarzan” not only helps individual QU students but also the university as a whole; it exposes the school and the interpreting program to people who might not have otherwise known much about them.
“We have two high school students who are in the show who have already visited QU just because they are in Tarzan. One girl said she has decided to come in the fall as a freshman interpreting major,” Meirose said. “The other girl’s really seriously thinking about it. She’s up for the Presidential (Scholarship)… We need interpreters really bad. Our students are getting jobs right away and getting certified right away.”
The show will run from Feb. 9 (tonight) through Feb. 12. Show times for “Tarzan” are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. QCT is located in the Oakley-Lindsay Center, 300 Civic Center Plaza. Tickets cost $14 and can be purchased online, at the QCT box office or by calling 217-222-3209.