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Sign language interpreters bring performances to life at Kravis Center

'I can experience the Broadway shows, their costumes, the music, their dancing because of it,' Rey Vega says
Posted at 4:08 PM, Jun 09, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Imagine going to a show and only experiencing half of it, while the rest of the audience gets to enjoy the entire thing. For millions of Americans, this happens often.

Some people have committed their lives to pulling back the curtain to make sure everyone can enjoy. In front of a full house at the Kravis Center, Amy Leigh Hair is on stage. She’s not in the show, but she knows all of the parts almost as well as the performers.

“One of the most challenging things is, the show is behind you. It’s back there,” Hair said, pointing over her shoulder.

As an interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing, Hair shares every line, song and sound with audience members.

“We have to sign the sounds in the show too," Hair said. "If there’s thunder and lightning, or a cop, and the horses are going.”

Hair studies the lines and the songs with scripts and music extensively ahead of time. She sees the show opening night to remember the details of which direction people stand, point, and move, so it will make sense to the audience.

“I studied longer for Hamilton than for any other show," she said, "because of the rap, rap, rap, rap. Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom.”

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Sign language interpreter Amy Leigh Hair explains the process of interpreting a show.

It’s all about equal access. Without it, the show loses texture.

Rey Vega is a theater buff who sees at least four performances every season.

“Trying to figure out who’s who and what’s what, and who said that. And it’s trying, so you kind of imagine what’s happening without knowing,” he explained.

Vega has known Hair for years, and he’s appreciated her work and that of her colleagues through her service, Hands on Broadway.

“I can experience the Broadway shows, their costumes, the music, their dancing, everything, the setting the way it is, and I have that chance because of that,” Vega explained.

The interpretation brings to life a complete story.

“They take on the character and the voice of the entertainers. And they match their mode, whether they’re happy or sad, and they just know the different things," Vega explained. "They know the role, they know who’s talking and who’s singing all at the same time. But without a sign language interpreter, it just doesn’t feel the same, because it’s hard to follow what’s happening on stage.”

While Hair has interpreted for politicians and emergency scenarios, theater is her specialty. She has been interpreting at Kravis, and several other South Florida theaters, for more than 30 years.

Both Hair and Vega have noticed even hearing people can’t resist the allure.

Rey Vega is a theater buff who sees at least four performances every season June 9 2023.jpg
Rey Vega, a theater buff who sees at least four performances every season, explains how essential sign language interpreters are.

“I’ve noticed that the hearing people that sit up front tend to watch the interpreter as opposed to watching the show, because they’re very involved,” Vega explained.

Some of the moments are more obvious than others.

“Whenever somebody signs a dirty word, I can see the eyeglasses turn to see, how’s she going to sign that (laughter), they cuss and they always look to see, how are they going to sign that?” Hair said.

Vega also teaches sign language and interprets. He asks everyone to consider how importance access is for all people, and that everyone deserves to experience a big night out in its complete form. He says ASL is his language, his culture, and his life.

“Each person has their own character and each character has their own story line. And that can apply to ASL as well because you’re signing and dancing, but in ASL you become the character,” Vega said.

The Kravis Center offers multiple assistive tools to aid in access for those who have a variety of abilities and needs.