DAYTON, Ohio — For many people, spending a night at the theater and seeing a show or musical is a favorite holiday tradition.

However, for audience members who are deaf or hard of hearing, it can be difficult to fully embrace the production even with an interpreter off to the side.

One Ohio college has found a unique way to embrace a powerful message of inclusion on stage year after year.

What You Need To Know

  • Sinclair Community College uses shadow interpreters on stage for holiday musical

  • Each character has an interpreter on stage to help share the story

  • Show runs from Dec 14-17 at the Blair Hall Theater on campus in Dayton

  • Performance is family-friendly

Sinclair Community College students Ethan Harris and Sophia Terrill are like peas and carrots on stage.

They’re performing in the musical ’Twas the Night Before Christmas and We’re Home Alone!, by Patti Frankhouser Celek.

For a decade, the college has used shadow interpreters using American Sign Language (ASL) to make a fully accessible show.

“It is so cool. It’s like double the actors, it’s fun having them right there next to you. So cool to see them out of the corner of your eye, you’re kind of just seeing them, but you’re not really trying to pay attention to them but they’re there and it’s a cool feeling,” Harris said.

“He’s a really good actor so matching his energy and the role he brings to the character is a really fun challenge, figuring out how to portray that to a deaf and hard-of-hearing audience,” said ASL shadow interpreter Sophia Terrill.

This show is a children’s comedy.

It’s a “tail” of how daily pets learn the different ways their humans celebrate the holidays.

“Sinclair theater here at the college is the only place in Ohio and I think the wider region that is consistently doing shadow interpreting,” said director Gina Keleesattel.

Every character has a student shadow interpreter on stage.

They’re part of rehearsals and the entire storytelling process from day one.

“I think it is wildly important not only to bring the deaf community in to not only say ‘this is a place where we see you as equal, this show is accessible and equal for you’, but for the hearing audience members to see how ASL works, it might be something they would like to learn themselves,” Keleesattel said.

Kirsten Pribula works as the director of artistic sign language.

She’s in the audience and makes sure everything runs smoothly.

“My job is to make sure the shadow interpreters are visible for the deaf audience, to make that the script is translated to an equivalent message into ASL so our deaf audience can understand the same way that the audience understands the English,” said Pribula.

“It is sort of like ‘Why didn’t we think of this before?’ So that’s why I feel very passionate about making it happen as much as possible,” Keleesattel said.

All shadow interpreters are students in Sinclair’s Associate of Applied Science Interpreter Education Program.

The show runs from Dec. 14-17 at the Blair Hall Theater on campus in Dayton.

Tickets are $8 and all performances are ASL-shadow interpreted.