Street Performance World Championships

A blog by @mircwalsh

Street Performance World Championships


Experiences are educational for deaf children, but verbal exchanges need to be relayed or accessible, especially at public events like SPWC. We are grateful to Miriam Walsh for attending this year’s AIB SPWC event and writing a report for IDK.

On Saturday June 20th, crowds gathered at Dublin’s Merrion Square for the finals of the AIB Street Performance World Championship (SPWC).  This was just a family day in the sunshine for many, but for others, the event was significant as the fun was made accessible to sign language users.

Pitch one at this year’s event had sign language interpretation for each of the Saturday and Sunday performances. Arriving in this area it was a challenge to find a seating place, which proved the popularity of the event.

More people were here, than at any of the other performances. Contortionist Bendy Em was stunning the crowd with her ability to fit inside a tiny plastic box. The average spectator might have dismissed the woman waving her arms frantically at the back, but her presence meant the sign language users present were able to understand what was going on.

Betty Brawn the second performer at this event did her best to involve the audience and added her own cues to her act. Using basic sign language, she introduced herself to the crowd and used visual cues in her performance to get the audience’s attention. These signs were basic and said things such as  “the human carousel”, “ooooh”, “wow” and “clap”.

Basic or not, these clever visual cues enhanced the spectator’s experience. Speaking before the act Betty said it had been her dream to perform in that area and she was excited to do so. Seven year old Ben from Louth travelled with his family to the event and thought Betty was ‘amazing’. Ben, who understands basic sign language, was able to enjoy the event just like any other child because of the interpreter.

Alan Regan also enjoyed the event and said, “It took me a while to figure out that that person was an interpreter. It was great that every one was included in this event and able to equally enjoy the show”.

While this interpretation was a clear advantage for attendees at the event it must be noted that not all deaf or hard of hearing people are fluent sign language users. Added to this is the fact that sign interpretation relies heavily on the interpreter signing every single word.

At this event it was clear that the different interpreters had different styles. One relayed everything, including all the jokes and passing comments, while the other’s tendency to omit sections of dialogue meant the viewers might not have got the full enjoyment of the event.

Initial talks during the planning of this event suggested that captioning might be an option but this was dropped in the days preceding the event. Captioning is best known in TV programmes, videos or cinema, and is now extending to live shows and performances like those at SPWC.

Live captioning at events like stand-up comedy or theatre, uses real-time stenography to convert the show’s audio output into text which is displayed on a large screen for the audience to read.

Providing captioning and sign language interpretation at the same event gives organisers a best-practice edge. Live captioning gives accessibility to all deaf and hard of hearing people, and to visitors who use English as a second language. With sign & captioning, all attendees can understand what the performers are saying in real-time and fully enjoy an event.

Captioning is to be considered for SPWC 2010, according to the organisers. Judging by the turnout at this year’s event, 2010 will be even bigger.