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Backstage with Holly Maniatty, the internet’s favourite interpreter

If you’ve ever stumbled on a viral video interpreter captivating a concert audience with a barrage of animated, quick-fire sign language, you’re likely already familiar with the work of Holly Maniatty.

Maniatty has been working as an American sign language (ASL) interpreter since 2000, and now specialises in signing for concerts and festivals, making shows by the likes of Jay-Z, Bruce Springsteen, Marilyn Manson, Kanye West, U2 and Eminem accessible to hearing-impaired concertgoers, and winning her a legion of fans – deaf and hearing alike – in the process.

Whether it’s ‘slaying it’ with Eminem, dancing with Waka Flocka Flame or bringing da ruckus with Wu-Tang Clan, Maniatty’s joyous, ebullient brand of signing has made her an internet star and one of the most in-demand ASL interpreters in the US.

The role of the interpreter, Maniatty (pictured) explains, goes far beyond memorising the words and translating them into ASL – her job, she tells IQ, is to “make every moment of the performance accessible. That means the music, the lyrics, the crowd, the emcee – everything.”

“For me that is a process that involves a lot of prep work,” she continues. “Depending on the artist, it can range anywhere from ten to 50 hours for a 45-minute performance. This includes research about the artist, the lyrical references, their influences, the musical story and authors. It’s a multi-layered process to give [fans] access to the musician.”

As the name suggests, ASL is a language in its own right, with its own grammar, syntax and structure unrelated to English. (ASL and British Sign Language, for example, are mutually unintelligible, despite both countries using English as a spoken language.) Accordingly, says Maniatty, concert interpreters focus on the meaning of the lyrics, “as interpreting is a meaning-for-meaning process.

“I hope this brings access to shows into the forefront of people’s minds”

“There are many equivalencies between ASL and English – but far more that are not equivalent. For example, there may be one phrase with five words in English that requires three signs, and conversely three English words may require ten signs to achieve an equivalency.”

In preparation for her interpretation of Eminem’s recent performance at Firefly Music Festival (which Mashable says “stole the show” during ‘Rap God’), Maniatty says she “worked on memorising both the musical story and the lyrics”. “One really great thing about Eminem is that his personal story, background and musical roots are really well known,” she explains, “as is his genius use of language to engage and entertain.

“These are huge challenges for an interpreter, but also an opportunity to use ASL at its fullest. ASL is a rich and complex language that has so many linguistic opportunities through the use of poetic and storytelling techniques, and this makes it a great marriage with music, and specifically hip hop.

“‘Rap God’ is very lyrically intense – the middle section where he raps very rapidly is also a challenge. I worked on that section of the song for a good five to eight hours, and then built the interpretation out from there.”

Maniatty says the demand for interpreters at concerts is still growing, driven by an increased awareness of their availability among deaf concertgoers. With the prevalence of social media, she explains, “people are more aware, instantaneously, of what is happening, or has happened, around the world. So as interpreters became more available for events and concerts, patrons became more aware and started requesting interpreters.”

“YouTube, and other user-sourced video sites,” she adds, “have made this a viral phenomenon – it is wonderful to get the word out and raise awareness.”

“ASL is a rich and complex language that has so many linguistic opportunities”

As the number of deaf people attending concerts increases, Maniatty says she hopes her online popularity, as well as that of other interpreters, will drive home the message that promoters must be serious about making their shows accessible.

“It comes back to what music and festivals and events are really all about: lots of different kinds of people connecting for the same performance or moment,” she explains. “I think that people see an interpreter and it kind of blows their mind that there are people that use ASL connecting to something that they love as well.

“Ultimately, I hope that it brings awareness to other patrons, producers and, especially, musicians that deaf people want access to their shows. Often patrons have to spend a lot of time emailing and calling and trying to get a hold of someone to request an interpreter. They then have to wait and see if the interpreter is qualified and certified and can do this kind of work well. Other patrons don’t have to do that – they just buy a ticket and show up. So, I hope that this brings access to shows into the forefront of people’s minds.”

“Beyond that, I hope that people take that image of an interpreter back to their everyday lives,” she adds. “Maybe they are a nurse, or a lawyer, or any other profession, and they come in contact with a deaf customer or patient and remember seeing an interpreter, and then provide access to the deaf person.

“Deaf people are still having to fight on a daily basis to get interpreters for doctor’s appointments, courts, et cetera. So hopefully this makes it a little easier, and makes equal access the norm.”

 


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Symphotech rolls out live music signing solutions

UK event safety company Symphotech has introduced two new signing solutions to help concert promoters comply with equality legislation.

The launch of the two technologies, produced in collaboration with TV production company Blue Multimedia, follows a recent lawsuit filed against LHG Live after the promoter failed to provide an interpreter for support acts for a September Little Mix show. It is a requirement under the Equality Act 2010 for companies to ensure disabled people’s experiences are as close as possible to those without disabilities.

Symphotech’s first method involves using an autocue operator to overlay live text onto video screens for the song lyrics. The second uses a live signing presenter, situated off-stage in front of a green screen, whose signing is ‘floated’ over the live show and placed into the corner of the video screens. This option provides the presenter with a live feed of the performance and lyrics sheets to enable them to be reactive throughout the show.

“We’re proud to offer these services to help ensure everyone is able to enjoy the pleasure of live music under the guidance of the 2010 Equality Act”

After consulting with disability support organisations, Symphotech says the live signing method has been identified as the preferred option.

Symphotech’s Will Hodgson says: “At Symphotech, we’re committed to ensuring everyone can attend safe and inclusive events. It’s vital that organisers take measures to ensure all attendees are offered the best possible experience while making certain their events are compliant with the disability access legislation.

“We’re proud to offer these services to help ensure everyone is able to enjoy the pleasure of live music under the guidance of the 2010 Equality Act.”

 


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Deaf woman sues UK promoter in signing row

In a legal battle that will be watched closely by concert promoters across the UK, a deaf woman is suing Newark on Trent-based LHG Live because no sign-language interpreter was provided for the support acts at a Little Mix show last July.

Responding to a high court injunction, LHG Live provided Sally Reynolds and two friends, also deaf, with a British sign language (BSL) interpreter for the concert, held at the South of England Event Centre in Ardingly, Sussex, on 1 September. The show featured support from Ella Eyre and the Germein Sisters.

Reynolds tells the BBC that while she felt she and her daughter, who is able to hear, “were really part of the Little Mix experience”, because the show was “so good” she realised afterwards that “we had missed out on the first two acts”, who were not signed, “so it was very much a disparity of experience compared with everyone else.”

Using a not-very-good metaphor that rather ignores the fact Little Mix (pictured) were the show’s headliners, she adds: “We only got access to the last act. If you went to a film can you imagine only getting access to the last 20 minutes?”

LHG Live says it would have been impossible to provide an interpreter for the support acts, as they were only announced 10 days before the Little Mix show

Reynolds is now issuing legal proceedings “for the failure to make reasonable adjustments, in the form of supplying an interpreter, for the whole concert”, reports the BBC.

It is a requirement under the Equality Act 2010 for companies to ensure disabled people’s experiences are as close as possible to those without disabilities.

Reynolds’s solicitor, Chris Fry, comments: “It is important that venues and promoters recognise that the legal duties to make reasonable adjustments extend to them.”

However, responding to the BBC report, LHG Live says it would have been impossible to provide an interpreter for the support acts, being that they were only announced 10 days before the Little Mix show – far short of the minimum time it would take for an interpreter to learn the lyrics (four to six weeks).

“It is important that venues and promoters recognise that the legal duties to make reasonable adjustments extend to them”

In addition to the interpreter, the promoter supplied Reynolds’s party with a full schedule in advance, including running order; upgraded their tickets to golden circle; provided access to private toilet facilities; and ensured all public announcements were made solely on giant screens either side of the main stage, to “ensure 100% accessibility”.

A meeting between LHG Live and the British Deaf Association and music industry charity Attitude is Everything, “to look at potential solutions and ensure the correct accessibility longer term at music events”, was scheduled almost immediately after the show, on 4 September. It is due to take place in February 2018.

A spokesperson for Little Mix says the band “strongly believe their concerts should be completely inclusive for all. The band welcome all fans to their shows, including those with hearing impairment, and encourage the promoters they work with to make provisions to ensure their fans can enjoy the concert experience.”

Attitude is Everything, meanwhile, says it “welcomes” Little Mix’s statement but is unable to comment further on the case.

 


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