This morning, I was very grateful to have been invited to share some of my experiences and personal observations from two seemingly very different (and yet in many ways similar) areas of my professional life, presenting at one of the weekly, live get togethers of #interpreters from around the world in The Interpreters' Practice Group, led by Sarah Tiemann.
I began by offering a selection of vocal warm-ups harvested from teachers, artists and experts whom I have met over the years in my ventures as a #performingartist, before moving on to discuss the crossover between the performing world and that of interpreting.
Aside from the obvious shared vocal element which is common to singing, most acting and stand-up comedy, for example, these two industries have a great deal more in common.
In adhering to our code of conduct #codeofconduct which requires us to remain #impartial in the interpreting situation, as interpreters, we must not only supress our natural reactions and emotions (thereby not being seen to be emotionally aligning with one party or another) but we must also follow the rather unnatural practice of not engaging in conversation with the parties outside of the interpreting scenario, such as in the waiting room prior to an appointment.
At the same time, we must mirror the speakers' emotions in our renditions of what is spoken. To my mind, this requires a level of #acting skill in order to comfortably convey the speakers' feelings, and is tantamount to playing a role. And yet, rather than seeking the spotlight, the interpreter must strive to be an 'invisible artist'; to be at once non-distracting from the communication flow between the various parties, and exceptionally clear in speech and manner.
We are also #improv artists, skilled in attending appointments with no rehearsed script. If we work with agencies, there is often next to no information on the nature of the assignment. We have never met the other members of the 'cast' or 'orchestra' with whom we will be 'performing', and in public service interpreting, the 'stage' may differ each time; one day a hospital ward, the next a town hall, an end users' dwelling; each providing their own acoustic and accessibility challenges. (Think residents' only parking zones, having to park a mile away and then running back to the assignment in heels!) We're adept at rising to the challenge and, as so many interpreters are working outside of their country of origin, add to this the extra cultural and linguistic loads imposed just from living and working abroad.
Unlike performing artists, who do not generally break the fourth wall, as interpreters, we take on the role of sound and lighting engineers and front of house staff, breaking out of our inobtrusive roles to ask if the television could please be switched off to facilitate audibility, that a light be turned on so that we may read our notes, or to 'conduct' the communication flow when it breaks down due to participants not respecting turn-taking nor pausing for interpretation.
Just as the actor 'blocks' and follows stage direction, the interpreter pays close attention to positioning. We check if all parties can see and hear us and we continually assess where we are we in relation to everyone in attendance. For example, during a physiotherapy assignment where the end user needs instruction on different pieces of apparatus at different heights located around a large space, we need to follow the service user and the end user and adjust our level and position accordingly.
We would make similar changes if we were, let's say, at an assignment where a health visitor is assessing a young non-English-speaking child on the floor while talking with carers who are standing or sitting. We'd take care not to loom over the child and the social worker but at the same time be comfortable ourselves, and easy to see and hear for all participants.
Despite these challenges, I see and hear from others in my field that the satisfaction comes not from receiving roses at the final curtain, a standing ovation, nor a positive review in the entertainment section of the paper, but rather in knowing that we have perhaps eased another's discomfort or suffering, or helped someone to progress where there would otherwise have been a frustrating language barrier. What's for sure is that a lot can be learnt in terms of self-care, warming up and preparation from the world of the performing arts and I'm glad to have both worlds woven into my life.