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Talking "Lion"

Date: Mar 13, 2008


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It might have been called "Roaring Hands," or "Talking Paws."

At a recent matinee performance of Disney's unstoppable The Lion King, young audiences with hearing loss could follow the tale without missing a beat, thanks to a trio of seasoned sign interpreters and open captioning. It's part of TDF's Talking Hands program, its broadest effort to make theatre accessible to a wide range of people with hearing loss.

Lynnette Taylor wittily rendered the entertaining gibberish of Rafiki, as well as Lebo M's uplifting choral chants, delivered in a variety of African languages. Alan Champion alternately portrayed a cackling Scar, a grave Mufasa, and a yearning Simba. And spunky Candace Broecker-Penn did the honors as a manic Zazu and a menacing hyena.

Though these interpreters are providing a service, they're also semi-stars among the community of people with hearing loss, as was evident when they entered and greeted the crowd.

"Their enthusiasm and energy is very palpable," said Broecker-Penn before the performance began. Champion, Taylor and Broecker-Penn have been interpreting Lion King for 10 years now, which makes them as expert at its rhythms and characters as anyone on the stage.

Meanwhile, Katrina Gay sat with a laptop in the third row, house left. The script for the show was on the computer screen, and the computer was connected to the open-captioning box. A well-oiled musical machine must be pretty easy to keep pace with, right? Maybe, but as Katrina's sister Emily pointed out, this is not always the rule. Occasionally an actor forgets a line or improvises. Emily recalled a comedy with Richard Dreyfuss called Sly Fox, which had a tendency to go off script occasionally.

This was no Sly Fox, to be sure. The Lion King purrs along nicely, and thanks to the Talking Hands it's a show whose roar can be seen as well as heard.

Click here for more information about Talking Hands.