Posts Tagged ‘Song Sign’

Dreaming With A Broken Heart – BSL Interpretation

Dreaming With a Broken Heart by John Mayer, performed by Alim Jayda

Alim works as a professional Musical Theatre Performer having trained at The Italia Conti Academy. His passion for sign language stems from his family, both his parents and two of his three siblings are profoundly deaf. Alim seems like a busy bee, when he’s not acting, dancing or singing he (in his words) “tries to be an interpreter as well as pulling pints in a bar”.

I saw Alim perform as part of this year’s Definitely Theatre’s 4 Play (You can read my response here) and was wowed by his presence on stage. I was excited to find him on Youtube and got the chance to interview him about his recently posted video.

What influenced you to translate a song into BSL?

I was innocently asked by a friend of mine what deaf people did if they wanted to hear a song. I explained, but also explained that there was such a thing called ‘Sign Song’!

I’d never done one before but have seen a few in my time… I’ve always truly enjoyed doing it and after choreographing a piece of dance with sign language in 2010 – Its something I have always wanted to do!

I think it can be one of the most beautiful things to watch….. using your body to create and tell a story is something I want to always continue to be able to do.

Why did you choose Dreaming With A Broken Heart by John Mayer?

John Mayer has always been one of my favourite artists…. After seeing a number of AMERICAN SIGN song videos…. The ones that always seemed to work were the songs that meant a little bit more. Sure, you could bop around to anything but I truly believe that you need to have a personal connection to a song to be able to convey and give it something. I have my own personal connections – Its also nice to see that its not always the female that dreams with a broken heart..many a men are!

What skills do you need to draw on to translate a song? Tell me a bit about your process…

If I’m honest… it was completely organic. I practiced and envisioned it in my head once… then shot it. It was my first time even using my camera on my mac let alone properly finalizing and uploading something to Youtube! I tried to however, place myself into the song and become a character. I didn’t want to just SIGN something…. I wanted to feel it!

Who are your song signing influences?

If I’m honest… I don’t really have many influences in song sign, HOWEVER a woman who has always truly inspired me is Paula Garfield at Deafinitely Theatre. She taught me how to really embrace my sign language and how to create something so visually beautiful. We were working on telling the story of the 3 little pigs one day…. She gave me an example and I expanded. Theres truly NO limits with sign song and I truly believe that she gave me the confidence to do something like this!

it’s a GREAT opportunity to spread and increase deaf awareness! So many people just make music and assume deaf people won’t hear so won’t be interested. I know SO many that LOVE listening to music and it’s a huge part of their lives. Sign Song doesn’t only make the lyrics more accessible but also allows to bring the feeling of the song to life.

Alim’s passion for deaf awareness is apparent and he is pleasantly surprised about the reaction to his video so far. He hopes it will reach a wide audience including many deaf people and possibly some celebrities. 

Speaking of celebrities, what do you think of the much debated Paul McCartney video starring Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp using sign language? (My Valentine video here)

It’s stunning and god I’d id love to be a music video like that!!

Sign language is so beautiful It needs to be exposed more. The only problem I have is that a lot of sign song seem to be VERY heavy SSE which takes away from the feeling and emotion of the song. It should be about feeling the song’s emotion itself, therefore signing in BSL and expressing feelings through movement. I think that’s just my view however coming from a dance and acting background.

Alim will soon be filming his next BSL song in a professional studio. At this time, I’m not going to reveal the song, you’ll have to keep an eye on his progress through twitter (@A_Jaydaor his Youtube channel


Integrating a Signer in Performance

Recently, I spent two weeks at The Orpheus Centre – here I should put a tag line to describe the centre for you, something very politically correct and concise. However, I’m going to go for… The Orpheus Centre – an inclusive, innovative performing arts centre and lifeskills college/a big inspiring bunch of fun! The Orpheus Centre put on a Christmas show every year that is written, designed and performed by the students. Having been involved with a few Orpheus projects over the last couple of years, I know how much fun it can be and just had to get in on the action so I volunteered to sign the songs of the show in performance.


As soon as the song lyrics were written by the students they were emailed to me so I could work on the translation. I have to admit that I may have slightly underestimated the songwriting talents at the Orpheus Centre as I gazed at the beautiful and complex metaphors on my laptop screen at home, wondering how to sufficiently do this justice in Sign Language. Nevertheless I relished the challenge and prepared myself for the two weeks of excitement of rehearsals and performances.

I arrived to meet the cast and discover who plays the various characters in the show. I asked the director if the cast could create sign names for their characters as this would be useful to incorporate into the songs but also promotes some deaf culture awareness. As the cast have been working on characterisation, who better to develop a sign name than the actors themselves. Sometimes, as a Sign Language Communicator I find myself using the same sign too often rather than expressing things in different ways. A group of performers were playing the baddies, they all came up with different signs and gestures to express their characters which furthered my understanding of this group of characters, providing the

creativity to use signs other than ‘bad’. This exercise got the performers thinking about their characters, trying to sum them up in one sign and could be useful to other theatre groups as a dramatic exercise or to aid the inclusivity of performance.

I solidified my decision to sign the songs only as all involved wanted the sign language to be as integrated as possible, meaning I would have a character and costume not just be plonked on the side of the stage. My focus was on using sign language creatively in performance to provide some access and promote deaf accessibility to an audience.

Getting Stuck In

There were rumours of a rap in the show, slightly daunting to sign but I went along to the rehearsal to hear this created for the first time. Having recently seen Graeae’s Reasons to be Cheerful I was inspired by the way the integrated interpreter had fun with signing Ian Dury’s anarchic songs and decided to throw myself into the spirit of things. The rehearsal, lead by a very talented musical director was such a playful atmosphere. The students and musicians experimented with different ways to structure the song, this is very different from how I remember music where things were set in stone, so many musical laws and Italian terms to obey. In addition to the musical composition, I got to observe a rehearsal of a song with unfinished lyrics. Wonderfully poetic lyric writing happened so quickly and as the signer I really wanted to do this poetry justice. Song lyrics are often difficult to translate as you have to search for the meaning but observing the lyric writing process really helped me to create some visually pleasing and meaningful signs to accompany the song in performance.

Once I had polished the translation and committed it to memory my confidence was on the rise. Now to work on giving it some oomph! I was still buzzing from Graeae’s Reasons to be Cheerful

– If you didn’t see it then you really missed out. In my opinion it really raised the bar for disability led theatre, it was just a massively enjoyable piece of theatre. The interpreter in role was fab and donned fish net tights, a tartan mini skirt and Doc Martins – a huge contrast from your standard theatre terps! She made it look so easy though so I guess the secret is to just have fun with it. Enjoy it, stay in role and hopefully that will translate to the audience, BSL users or not.
Act 1 Beginners to the Stage

The gloves are just to keep my hands warm!

As a signer it’s great when you are given a costume. However, I did feel slightly guilty taking it back and asking for some alterations,

I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. A lot of people don’t realise that what a signer wears is really important, when I started as a Sign Language Communicator my funky patterned tops were relegated to the depths of my wardrobe. So when I was given a white blouse to wear I needed to explain that next to my snowflake skin I would just be a moving white blob. The rule of thumb is to wear a plain top that stands out from your skin colour.

In performance I had some really nice interactions with the cast, which is the icing on the cake to integration. I have seen many performances where I am convinced that I have seen the occasional evil glare in the direction of the SLI as if they are competing for the audience’s attention. I can understand this, as an actor you want to captivate your audience, especially during that all important Shakespearean soliloquy. The visual language at the side of the stage can be a distraction. But tough! Both actor and SLI are professionals providing a service. I do not believe that the SLI should dumb it down so as not to interfere with the performance, that just creates more barriers, and besides, terps only terp off the energy of the speaker. Yet another challenge I came across was that the integrated signer in role needs to run off their own energy and find their own character in addition to interpreting the songs for other characters.

The Finale

The show had great feedback and tickets were sold out for almost every performance. I had a fantastic time working with The Orpheus Centre and I hope I did your show justice! I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

To find out more about The Orpheus Centre click here

A big thank you to Sarah Carew and Kai Takatsu for the use of their photographs.


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