Cat Brewer knows all about that music can lift the soul and transform one’s consciousness. In 2014, in the midst of her marriage, she sought assistance in sound, going out regularly to catch musicians who could speak to her broken heart. But it wasn’t Gavin DeGraw’s sculpted face or confessional songs at his show in Napa that year that caught his eye. Rather, Brewer was killed on stage by an interpreter, translating DeGraw’s songs into American Sign Language for the deaf and hard of hearing in the audience.
“I ended up paying more attention to him than DeGra, whom I had a big crush on,” said Brewer, a longtime Alameda resident who lives in rural North Carolina. “I’ve been going to concerts since childhood and I can’t remember seeing an ASL interpreter. I didn’t know that deaf people enjoy music. I was completely clueless, so after the show, I used the interpreter and Started talking to some deaf people present there through an interpreter.”
The conversation she began that day expanded into an epic quest to understand the ways in which live entertainment is, or often isn’t, made accessible to deaf fans, a quest that culminated in her debut. , sign the show,
The feature documentary makes its Bay Area premiere at her alma mater, Cal State University East Bay, on September 14, where she’ll be on hand for Q&A after the screening with two of the film’s subjects, Julie Reims—smarting, an award-winning actress—at the event. Winner deaf activist, and Matt Maxie, founder of hip-hop interpretive organization DEAFinitely Dope and interpreter of Chance the Rapper during their 2017 tour.
sign the show Also screened at Holy Names University on September 16 as part of the Oakland International Film Festival (which runs September 15–24 at venues around the city). It will be preceded by two short films followed by a Q&A with Brewer.
The documentary offers a deep dive into the ways in which deaf culture navigates and intersects with live entertainment that hearing impaired people take for granted. Much of the film focuses on how an ASL interpretation can open up the music to deaf audiences, beginning with an introductory sequence from Oakland R&B institution Tony! Tony! Tone! At the Alameda County Fair. As the sound drops and returns over and over, his camera detects the ASL interpreter pulsing and signing the song in rhythm.
The film makes clear how vulnerable access can be to the 40 million Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing. In 1990 President George HW Bush signed the Disabilities Act, which requires venues to provide reasonable accommodation to make demonstrations accessible. Julie Rams-Smario, a longtime education counselor who works at the California School for the Deaf in Pleasanton, recalls what it was like before the ADA, going to see the prince and “before attending the concert To study her songs to find out what she can sing,” she wrote in an email.
“Nowadays we have more access to ADA, but we still don’t have access everywhere. We still have to reserve ahead of time and make sure that interpreters are appropriate for the entertainment genre. When in entertainment there is a need for interpreters. It’s not one-size-fits-all when it comes to it. It’s important to hire interpreters with specific skill sets to interpret concerts by rappers like Waka Flocka, for example.”
Odie Ashford, an Antioch-based African-American ASL interpreter whose work on signing the Waka Flocka Flame Show went viral on a 2017 Facebook video, has performed at several concerts and festivals over the years. She was hired to do smaller shows several times, but that didn’t prepare her for her first big showcase, signing Outkast and LL Cool J at Bottlerock Napa Valley in 2014. Working in two-person teams so that one interpreter can take a break every now and then. 20 minutes, the job requires more than ASL fluency and stamina. Judgment and the ability to quickly produce colloquial, filthy or cryptic songs are also essential.
Ashford realized he had a problem when his white partner said he was too nervous to sign the N-word. “I said, ‘You gotta say nigga! It’s hip hop. It’s in every other weird sentence.’ But we worked it out so that every time they say the n-word, I’m in front of them and we made it a joke. But it’s always a challenge. How much do I really know Snoop Dogg? You sizzle my nizzle ‘ How about signing that? Sometimes you need to be normal, like this song is about a swarm of weed, and try to stick to that rhythm.”
Brewer explores all these challenges sign the show When interviewing hearing and deaf interpreters, deaf music lovers and musicians who have come to understand that interpreters can open their performances to audiences that are otherwise closed.
Interviews with Kelly Clarkson, Andre 3000, DL Hughley, Nile DeMarco, Camry Mannheim and D’Vain Wiggins provide interesting insights from the actors’ point of view, while “for hearing people to see a film about the experiences of deaf people “There is also intent to attract. Brewer said. “It’s a very marginalized community. When I first started it I thought I needed to attract famous people to listen to people.”
In many ways, Brewer was inspired to investigate how musicians and presenters make concerts accessible to deaf fans. She had spent the past two decades teaching communications at East Bay community colleges such as Laney, Chabot, Las Positas and Diablo Valley. Following his experience at a Gavin DeGraw concert, he wrote an article in the Oakland Tribune about the difficulties deaf people face in accessing playing music. A friend suggested the story would make a great documentary, and she was off to the races. She had a great deal of marketing and promotion experience while helping to guide the career of jazz guitarist Terence Brewer, whom she was married to. He learned everything on his own except for a one-day filmmaking seminar.
“I went to Best Buy and bought an $800 camera,” she said. “I thought I’d upgrade quickly but eight years later I still have. I literally started reaching out to people with gratitude and love. I had two years of tweet conversations trying to coordinate an interview with Chuck D. I would stand outside Cobb in San Francisco and try to catch the comedians as they left.”
whereas sign the show Primarily focused on music, Brewer includes sections on theater and standup comedy, engaging detours that raise many questions about the nature of expression and communication. A particularly active interpreter can propel a musician on stage, but one who can elevate a concert can propel a comedy set into uncomfortable territory. Impersonation doesn’t work in deaf comedy and there are whole categories of jokes that don’t translate to ASL. As one comedian explains in the film, “If you joke with the interpreter, you’re taking them away from the people who need them.”
Brewer accumulated nearly five dozen hours of material while making Sign the Show, and she hopes to produce additional segments that include more in-depth interviews with interpreters and performers. The film returns to the Bay Area next month as part of the United Nations Film Festival October 20–30, when it will screen at yet-to-be-announced locations in Stanford, East Palo Alto and San Francisco. more than opening a window into a community that is often overlooked, sign the show Makes a compelling case that the performing arts can entertain, enlighten, and enchant audiences in every amount.
“It is my hope that this film will enlighten the society at large and inspire them to join as partners in the movement of the deaf community to make every entertainment venue accessible to every deaf person,” Rems- Smrio said. “Deaf people should not fight for access all the time. We should not think whether this show or concert will be accessible to us or not. Entertainment should be enjoyed in the same way that people are given to listen.”