‘Wonderstruck’ Interpreter Says You Shouldn’t Be Intimidated by ASL

Photo Source: Myles Aronowitz

As an on-set ASL interpreter, Lynnette Taylor’s job on the Todd Haynes–helmed film “Wonderstruck” was to forge connections between everyone on set, hearing and deaf alike.

Interpreters forge connection.
“Whenever there’s a group of people together that don’t have a shared language, I convey the meaning of the conversation. I interpret into American Sign Language and American Sign Language into spoken English for the rest of the crew. But really, more than that, the role of the interpreter on set is about allowing people to make connections.”

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Trepidation on set is normal.
“My experience, especially with ‘Wonderstruck,’ is at the beginning, everyone has a heart full of intention of wanting to come together, and they’re just afraid, [thinking], Oh, I might do the wrong sign. I might do something that’s rude. There’s a lot of trepidation at the beginning, but then as people get to know each other, all of that falls away, and my role actually decreases instead of increases because the direct connections are being made, which is beautiful.”

Actor-interpreter trust is crucial.
“[Establishing trust] is very important. Creativity is a very intimate moment. When [Haynes] would give notes to [star Millicent Simmonds], it was about honoring that space and her privacy to create. I try to hone the intimacy of the moment, but also give the cues if the director is calling the cues. Everybody has to trust the interpreter: the director and the actor.”

To learn ASL, actors must be taught by a deaf person.
“You have to have a deaf person teach you. You have to have a deaf native person. There are a lot of amazing people out there who are doing this now. There is a lot of deaf talent coming up and shows being written by and for deaf people with deaf actors. Deaf West Theatre has a lot of experience with translation. But yes, for actors, you have to have a deaf person teach you.”

Interpreting keeps Taylor connected to the deaf community.
“[ASL] is my first language. My mother is deaf, so I grew up signing. Then, when I went to college, I realized I was actually leaving my language and culture at home. I thought, I have to find a way to keep my language alive and my connection to the deaf community alive, and that was through interpreting. My background is in film and television and the arts. I went to arts school and film school. I interpreted on Broadway. My background is a lot of theater interpreting and teaching interpreting for the theater. It’s the best thing I could have done. It’s a good karma job!”

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