For sign language interpreters, ‘Miracle Worker’ is not just any show

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For sign language interpreters, ‘Miracle Worker’ is not just any show

Posted on: March 12th, 2014 by tommyj

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With a popcorn bowl on the coffee table and the TV and DVD player turned on, it looks like a movie afternoon at Donna Snyder’s home in Nicholasville. But Snyder and her three colleagues are at work, preparing the sign-language interpretation of this weekend’s presentation of The Miracle Worker at the Lexington Opera House.

Snyder, who’s day job is interpreter for Fayette County Public Schools, is joined by Kimmie Curtis, a staff interpreter at the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville; Tara Stevens, visiting assistant professor in the American sign language and interpreter education department at Eastern Kentucky University; and Jena White, a language consultant who is deaf.

As the 1962 movie about Hellen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan progresses, the interpreters constantly turn to White with questions about what people in the audience who are deaf would need interpreted.

"Most of what’s happening between Annie and Helen, deaf people can watch it themselves, and there’s no need for it to be interpreted," White told the interpreters in sign language, interpreted by Stevens so a visiting reporter could understand. "We know how it feels, that kind of back and forth, so I think you can watch Annie and Helen. As a deaf person, I don’t need you to interpret that for me."

The Miracle Worker is the story of Keller, the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree who went on to become an author, speaker and political activist. William Gibson’s play, which was also the basis for the award-winning 1962 Arthur Penn movie that the women were watching, tells the story of young Helen, who lost her sight and hearing to scarlet fever as an infant in the late 19th century, and her teacher, Sullivan, who taught Helen to communicate.

For the deaf community, this is not just another show.

"It’s very important, because Helen Keller was deaf and blind," White said, interpreted by Stevens. "I’m just deaf; that’s it.

"She didn’t accept the fact that her family thought she couldn’t do anything. She used that as energy to move forward. She was a very successful woman because she knew that she could do it, and she had those things that she needed to move forward. Deaf people in the community need to see that, to know that I can do that as well. I can do anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re deaf or hearing."

‘The most gorgeous performances’

For Snyder and her crew, interpreting performances is far from simply showing up and repeating whatever is said from the stage through sign language.

"When I first started interpreting, I felt like I was called to interpret music," Snyder says. "I would watch deaf people interpret music, and it was beautiful. Some of the most gorgeous performances I have seen were by deaf people using their language."

This will be Snyder’s first time interpreting for a Broadway Live production at the Opera House, but she has been in Rupp Arena for numerous concerts, evening signing the Backstreet Boys’ 1999 concerts at Rupp Arena when White was going as a starstruck teenager.

Rock concerts are legendary for being hard places to understand what a performer is saying, but Snyder and other interpreters usually enter the arena knowing pretty much every lyric that’s likely to be sung. She will get the set list to the show and then build a playlist on her iPhone specific to that concert. She acknowledges that by the time concert night rolls around, she is often sick of the artists because she’s been listening to them so much.

‘Act like you are in the play’

But music isn’t just about words, she emphasizes.

"There’s more to a performance than just what comes out of the microphone," Snyder says.

White, interpreted by Curtis, says, "If it’s a rock band, you’ve got to get into it. You can’t just sign with a blank facade. Deaf people can’t hear the mood of it, the emotion of it, or the sound of it, so the interpreter has to express those things."

That goes for any kind of performance, be it country concerts or Shakespearean plays.

"You have to act like you are in the play," White continues. "You can’t just throw it out there. It doesn’t work that way."

Curtis and Stevens have done quite a bit of theater, particularly for Berea College, and say that they usually start with the script, and maybe attending some rehearsals, to figure out how to best relay the script to audience members who are deaf.

"We’ll work together on the script, figuring out how to appropriately convey that message into American sign language," Stevens says.

"I like to see the show," Curtis says. "But this time, we can’t because it’s a traveling show, so we’re watching the movie."

She said they were trying to determine which scenes will necessitate heavy interpretation, and how roles should be divided between them for the clearest interpretation, and when they should just step back and allow the audience to watch the action.

Because The Miracle Worker focuses on the relationship between Keller and Sullivan, there are more moments that don’t require interpreting than in most plays. In fact, Snyder says she initially told her collaborators, "I want to play Helen, and they were thinking, well, ‘OK, be a diva,’ until they realized Helen only has one line.’"

We won’t give away any more than that.

"Hearing people and deaf people can all see the same thing," Snyder says.

But White adds there is a heightened sense of sight that helps her and others who are deaf simultaneously watch sign-language interpreters and the action on the stage.

"I can use other senses to see what’s going on," White says, interpreted by Snyder. "So I can see more than a typical hearing person because I use my senses in different ways. I feel like I see more than other people tend to see."

Still, interpreters try to make sure they do not draw too much attention.

"I’ve heard people say, ‘Interpreters upstage the performer,’ and we don’t set out to do that," Snyder says. "No interpreter wants to do that. But you try to set out to make something interesting for deaf people and you can’t help if you get wrapped up in the performance. We are driven by the emotions."

People who need an interpreter simply call the box office and request seating to be able to see a sign-language interpreter, said Sheila Kenny, spokeswoman for Lexington Center Corp., which manages the Opera House and Rupp Arena.

She says the costs of the interpreter are absorbed by the event promoter and they generally need at least two weeks notice so interpreters can be hired and have time to prepare.

‘A really sensitive subject’

The biggest news about sign language interpretation recently centered on a man who posed as an interpreter at the funeral of South African icon Nelson Mandela and essentially signed gibberish as world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama spoke.

Snyder, who was visiting her son in South Africa right before those events, was stunned that could even happen, citing extensive certification for sign language interpreters in the United States and even further background checks necessary to work with high-level officials. (She knows the latter well, having once interpreted for then-Vice President Al Gore.)

"We have rules and certifications, and you can’t just go up there and flap your wings," Snyder said. "It made a mockery of the most important person who lived in South Africa."

White, interpreted by Snyder, said, "It’s a really sensitive subject because deaf people need access, particularly if it’s a big event like that. You ought to have somebody up there who’s an expert and not just making up stuff as they go along."

And she and other people who are deaf also want and need access to events like plays at the Opera House.

"I can’t hear that frustration, I can’t hear that joy, I can’t hear those different emotions," White says. "So I am here to help them understand from my perspective that you need to show those emotions and express those emotions, and I can be involved in the show in that manner, and deaf people can have that understanding of the story."

With March Madness and Lent coinciding, basketball fans might need to rethink their menus for game watching. Many people give up certain foods, especially indulgent ones, at this time of year. But don’t let that put a damper on your party menu.

When friends gather to watch the basketball tournaments, serve a dish that’s suitable for everyone: hummus, the Middle Eastern spread that’s made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.

"Hummus, lentils and salad are common food eaten during the Lenten season," Jeanette Gallaway, a member of St. Andrew Orthodox Church said. Her recipe for hummus is basic and is served at many family and church events.

Protein-packed hummus is on the menu at Lexington’s Middle Eastern restaurants, and most offer the classic version made with chickpeas and tahini (sesame seed paste). You can buy ready-made hummus in a variety of flavors at the supermarket.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, the hummus industry has grown from just $5 million in sales 15 years ago to $530 million at U.S. food retailers in 2012.

Making hummus is so easy, there’s no reason not to make it from scratch, and Pinterest is a great spot for finding unusual takes on classic recipes. We found hummus made with roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes, balsamic caramelized onion, artichoke, avocado, pumpkin, sweet corn and — chocolate.

Shape magazine recently listed a variety of ways to make hummus. All recipes begin with canned beans (chickpeas being the classic), which are whirled in a food processor with other ingredients.

To make a Greek version: Combine 1 can chickpeas, ½ cup crumbled feta cheese, 1 cup baby spinach, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon.

A southwestern hummus is made with 1 can black beans, 1 chipotle pepper, 2 tablespoons lime juice, ¼ cup cilantro leaves and 1 teaspoon cumin. An Italian version calls for 1 can cannelloni beans and ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon dried oregano.

Get the idea? Now move onto other vegetables. You can combine 1¾ cups cubed, cooked or canned beets with 1⁄3 cup tahini, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 clove garlic. 1¾ cup edamame, cooked and shelled, can be substituted for beets.

Here is Gallaway’s recipe for traditional hummus.

2 cans chickpeas (drain 1/2 liquid from each can)

1 large garlic clove

Juice of 3 lemons

1/4 cup tahini

Salt to taste

Purée chickpeas and garlic in a blender for about 5 to 6 minutes. Slowly add the tahini, lemon juice and salt until thoroughly mixed.

Jamie Geller, author of Joy of Kosher (William Morrow, $30), suggests making hummus to put in little Mason jars to deliver to new neighbors, along with pita chips, instead of cookies or pies.

Geller dresses up classic hummus by layering it with red pepper hummus and spinach hummus to make a colorful trifle.

Here is Geller’s version.

Lemon lover’s hummus

1 can (15½ ounces) chickpeas, rinsed well and drained

1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)

1 garlic clove

Grated zest and juice of 2 medium lemons

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and cumin in a food processor. Pulse to coarsely chop. With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The mixture will be smooth and creamy. The hummus can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for as long as a week.

Makes 2 cups.

Tricolor hummus trifles: Make a double batch of lemon lover’s hummus.

To make layers: For the red pepper layer, place 1 cup hummus, ½ cup coarsely chopped roasted red bell peppers and ¼ teaspoon salt in a food processor; blend until smooth and set aside. For the spinach layer, place 1 cup hummus, ½ cup frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained well), ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt in a food processor, blend until smooth. Do not add anything to the third cup of hummus.

Transfer the three types of hummus to separate pastry bags fitted with large tips. Pipe the hummus in three layers in small trifle dishes or Mason jars. Serve with homemade pita chips.

To make pita crisps: Split pitas in half, cut the two disks into quarters, and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the pitas with sumac, za’atar, or a spice of your choice. Spray with cooking spray and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes.

Families who buy groceries in bulk can save money, but it helps to have a plan before shopping.

Costco — which opened in Lexington in October — offers an online meal planning service, eMeals, that helps busy cooks prepare family dinners. You can receive 14 Costco-focused menus to your smart phone or computer inbox every two weeks. It’s designed to take advantage of Costco promotions and volume packaging. The two-week plan provides a grocery list that consists of specific items shoppers will need for their meals for 14 days, and it’s organized by aisles for easy shopping. Go to to find the various plans and other stores that offer the service. A three-month subscription is $30.

April is National Grilled Cheese Month, and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is having a grilled cheese recipe showdown and offering a $10,000 grand prize.

The contest runs April 1 through May 12. To enter, contestants must submit an original grilled cheese recipe and photo featuring Wisconsin cheese. will launch on April 1 with contest rules.

Until then, you can practice making a prize-winning recipe. Here are some inspirations from one of the judges, food blogger McKenzie Smith of Grilled Cheese Social: Ricotta and Parmesan; turkey and provolone; Cheddar cheese, tomato jam, bacon and fried egg on brioche; pineapple-cilantro salsa, Fontina cheese and chorizo; and banana and mascarpone cheese on French toast brioche.

New fruit and veggie bars

The Edy’s Outshine fruit bars brand is adding some vegetables to its line of frozen fruit bars.

Fruit and Veggie bars contain at least 25 percent vegetables from purees and juices. Flavors are: Blueberry medley, which contains puree or juice from beets, blueberries, pears, apples, and sweet potatoes; tangerine carrot contains puree or juice from apples, carrots, pears, tangerines, and pumpkins; apple and greens is made from pumpkins, mangoes, pineapples, apples, bananas and kiwis, and kale and spinach; peach mango medley contains puree or juice from peaches, pears, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes and butternut squash; strawberry rhubarb is made with puree or juice from pears, apples, strawberries, pumpkins, rhubarb, cranberries, carrots, and beets.

Cost is $4.39 for a box of six 2.5-ounce bars. Go to

Go green

All you need is a little bottle of green food color to jazz up your St. Patrick’s Day menu.

In this recipe, contrasting layers of green, white, and chocolate brown are flavored with peppermint extract.

Green with envy cheesecake bars

1 1/2 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (about 30 cookies)

1⁄3 cup butter, melted

3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract

1/2 teaspoon green food color

3 eggs

2 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix cookie crumbs and butter. Press firmly onto bottom of foil-lined 9-inch square baking pan. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add sour cream and peppermint extract; mix well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until blended. Pour 1/2 of the batter over crust. Tint remaining batter green with food color. Pour over batter in pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool completely on wire rack.

Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Lift out of pan onto cutting board. Cut into bars. Drizzle bars with melted chocolate. Store leftover bars in refrigerator. Makes 24 servings.

Source: McCormick & Company

Question: I’ve been using the method described in your toilet-training book with my 18-month-old daughter, and she’s been doing great during the day. She rarely has an accident. However, I’m still using a diaper at naptime and during the night (waiting for some consistency in dryness before taking that away). Is that correct? The only problem is she’s figured out the routine and now poops only in her diaper when I put her down to sleep. She has not pooped on the potty during the day for several weeks. Is that cause for concern? Should I take away the diapers totally? I don’t want to create a bad habit. Thanks!

Answer: You (and your daughter, of course) are doing just fine. In fact, you’re both doing great and are living proof of the incontrovertible fact that pediatricians (not all, but certainly most) have been giving very bad toilet-training advice for the past 45 years. Specifically, they’ve been promoting the "child-centered" philosophy that has caused toilet training to become such a huge problem during this same period. They can be forgiven for believing that the pediatrician responsible for cutting this philosophy out of whole cloth knew what he was talking about, but it’s time for them to begin doing major atonement.

Keep up the good common sense! And don’t become discouraged, much less anxious, if your daughter has a setback now and then. There will be, as you’ve already discovered, some bumps in the road. In that regard, the fact that she’s waiting until naptime or nighttime to poop is no cause whatsoever for concern. It might take a while — several months, perhaps — but this will resolve itself eventually. In the meantime, celebrate her success and pay little to no attention to her reticence to use the potty for pooping.

Having said that, there are some strategies that might move this process along. One especially creative parent folded a diaper in the bowl of the potty and told her child that the doctor had said he should poop in his diaper that way. The child promptly pooped in the diaper-lined potty and continued to do so from that point forward. That’s a testament to thinking outside the box if there ever was one!

It’s also interesting to note that prior to the 1960s, when everything parenting in America began to go to Hades in a hand-basket, parents generally poop-trained before they pee-trained. Also, potty seats attached to the seat on the big toilet, so when a child was on the potty, he couldn’t get off very easily if at all.

When a child was on schedule to poop, his parents would put him on the potty and walk off. When the child pooped, he called his parents. They’d come in, help him down and clean him off. In other words, on-the-floor potties are part of the problem because children can get off of them at will (but the advantage, of course, is they can get on them without parent help). The sorta-kinda good news is that newer (but in my estimation, somewhat less effective) versions of the "old" potties can still be had. I found some on, for example. You might want to consider that option.

In any case, stay the course. In the final analysis, patience will be the cure!

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website,

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

It was a rare sunny day in this long, gray winter, and Anita Denson thought maybe that would bring some people in.

But as 1 p.m. Friday turned to 2 p.m. and then to 3 p.m., Denson sat in her office at Lexington’s Bluegrass Community Health Center catching up on paperwork and answering the occasional call.

The walk-ins she’d hoped for just didn’t come.

Somehow, despite the efforts of both the clinic and the state, many people aren’t aware that they might be able to sign up for Medicaid or low-cost private health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, Denson said.

"Somehow they just haven’t put it together," said Denson, who has worked to help people enroll since the rollout began Oct. 1, 2013.

March 31 is the deadline for the uninsured to private insurance or face a fine under the Affordable Care Act. People who are eligible for Medicaid, which is based on household income, can continue to enroll after the deadline.

Kentucky, which created the website Kynect.Ky.Gov, has been touted as a model for enrollment. When it started, an estimated 640,000 Kentuckians were uninsured. By the end of February, 265,000 people had signed up for insurance. But the percentage of uninsured varies greatly from county to county. Perry County had the highest at 67 percent. In Fayette County, about 24 percent of the 47,000 uninsured residents have signed up.

In addition to Denson, who spent most of her time helping people enroll, 10 other staffers have been trained to use the Kynect system, said Susan Fister, executive director of Bluegrass Community Health. Her agency doesn’t have a large budget for advertising, she said, but it has spent about $4,000 on radio and other advertisement aimed at reaching the uninsured.

The agency’s staff also has made more than 3,000 automated calls to clients who were uninsured but would not qualify for Medicaid. They’ve also held Saturday enrollment clinics, but those attracted only a handful of people. HealthFirst Bluegrass, a clinic similar to Bluegrass Community Health, also has held Saturday hours and is encouraging walk-ins. HealthFirst has signed up about 1,400 people, including 700 current patients.

UKHealthCare has trained more than 50 employees to assist with sign ups and have helped 1,500 Kentuckians enrolled, spokeswoman Kristi Lopez said.

Although she has been in touch with peers running similar clinics around the state, Fister said she still isn’t sure how to get uninsured residents to enroll.

I don’t know what the variable is," she said. She’s concerned that things are moving more slowly in Fayette County than in other parts of the state.

Certainly the need is no less here, she said.

Fister helped one man enrolled who had untreated diabetes, she said. He had been without care for so long his toe was necrotic and had to be amputated. But, she said, he now has insurance and can get the medicine and care he needs.

A majority of the health clinic’s 8,000 patients would be eligible under the state’s new expanded Medicaid guidelines which raised the amount of money a family could make and still sign up for the program, she said.

She thinks a percentage of eligible patients may have tried to sign up previously, before the income guidelines changed, and still assume they are not eligible.

Denson wants people to know her door is open and she is willing to help. Though the state system is working well, when there is a glitch, it can sometimes take a while to get things fixed, she said. She has spent as long as an hour and a half on hold trying to reach the state Medicaid office, because they are inundated with calls. That’s especially true during the first two weeks of the month when people who are already on Medicaid must reenroll each year.

But, she said, it’s worth the effort when she gets to tell somebody "you’re approved."

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