Singing and Signing

I had the pleasure of attending the Back to the Beach Festival at Huntington Beach State Park April 27th and saw one of my all-time favorites, The Beat. Though Dave Wakeling has not performed with Ranking Roger for many years, this one was especially difficult since Roger passed away on March 26th and his funeral was just this past Monday, April 29th in Birmingham. Dave paid tribute to Roger, dedicating the song Ranking Full Stop to him as he sang with an extra bit of emotion.

But it was hard to keep my focus on Dave, as an ASL interpreter was stationed stage right during the entire festival. This interpreter was full of the same level of emotion and excitement for the performance, perhaps even more so. For a hearing person like me, this interpreter brought an additional dimension to the music. For the deaf culture, he brought ska to a whole new audience. I was intrigued.

This interpreter is Matt Marquis and he has been an interpreter for almost 25 years. He interpreted his first music show 12 years ago and he says he is a fan of ska and The Beat. The photos below show his ASL interpretation for “Mirror in the Bathroom.”

I asked Matt about his connection to the music and his service. “I am familiar with The (English) Beat. I’ve seen them a few times. l even saw Dave’s side project Bang! In San Diego sometime in the 90s. I’m a big fan and have much respect for Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger (RIP) both for their music in The Beat and General Public. I also have had the opportunity to interpret for them before at a different festival,” says Marquis.

He continues, “I am a fan of ska for sure. When the third wave ska hit, I also expanded into some second wave stuff.¬† But third wave stuff … big fan! My 12 year old daughter Marci is a huge Aquabats fan.”

Matt Marquis explained how interpreting for a large music festival with bands like The Beat, The Aquabats, and others on the Back to the Beach bill works. He says, “In a dream world we would get set lists far in advance and prepare early on. So mostly our team does our homework on the internet. We look up set lists that other fans have posted and try prepare accordingly. We find lyrics online, translate the concepts into ASL, then do our best to match them with the music and tone of the song. We have worked with SGE, the promoters of Back to the Beach, last year and other events. They are amazing and supportive in trying to get us whatever we need and intercede on our behalf with the artists to request for set list days in advance. We practice the best we can. Plus being a fan of the artist or genre makes prepping easier. Some acts like the English Beat though don’t use set lists and just go by reading the crowd. So you just have to be on your toes.”

He says that the reception for ASL interpretation has been wonderful. “Audiences have been great. Shows and fans have evolved over the years. For years, deaf patrons have struggled to get the access they deserve. Interpreters have been required if requested since 1990 but venues often wouldn’t provide them, or they would wait so long to hire someone that they couldn’t do an adequate job. Also things like interpreter and patron placement, lighting and sound were not considered. Then the deaf would come and not enjoy the show, and the circle would continue. That is often still a issue at smaller venues. But now promoters and venues¬† have started to catch on. They are providing interpreters more frequently, in some cases without request from a deaf person, so more shows are being interpreted and more deaf people are coming to shows. The more shows interpreters do, the better the quality interpretation and overall experience.”

Matt Marquis says that many of the artists also embrace ASL interpreters. “It has spread to the artists as well. When I started, bands we’re unsure of what Interpreters did, and sometimes even felt like the interpreters were a distraction. Now bands are recognizing the deaf patrons and accessibility. Some artists take a vested interest in ASL and the interpretation process. Monique Powell from Save Ferris is a great example. She learned a few signs before her show and added it to the performance. Deaf patrons loved it!” he says.

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