Leading roles at their finger tips
Posted Oct 09, 2018
Getting cast in a lead Broadway role is a dream had by many but realized by few. Multiple leading roles is an even more rare accomplishment and when you try to find someone who has played Elphaba, Sebastian, The King of Siam and Young Cosette you are walking into impossible territory. That is until you meet Kristine Orkin and Erin Reed who have played all of those characters…in the last year alone.
As theatrical sign language interpreters, the duo have an impressive resume of roles that reads like a Broadway bucket list of dream parts from the villains to the heroes, princesses to witches, lions to crustaceans and everything in between.
“(Roles) would have been a cool thing to count,” Reed jokes when asked if she knew exactly how many parts she’s played on stage at the Fox Cities P.A.C. in her more than 13 years interpreting for the Center. “In the average show we have at least 10 characters each…multiply that by the number of shows in each season going back to 2004…and well, that’s a lot.”
Using that math, and taking into account some repeat visits by fan favorites or other circumstances, the number ends up coming out somewhere around 780 for Reed, who began in December 2004. For Orkin, who has been interpreting for the Center since July 2003, that number of characters gets closer to 900.
Of course, they have their favorites.
Orkin answers quickly with a resounding “Tracy Turnblad. That was me,” explaining how she connected with the character and that the duo also had fun with the cast, incorporating choreography into their interpretation. She adds others to her list of favorites including the iconic Javier from Les Misérables and Usnavi from In The Heights.
Reed, who admits she prefers the funny, lighthearted characters, cites squatting like a crab for Sebastian in The Little Mermaid and Lola from Kinky Boots before quickly naming her all-time favorite “Dewey from School of Rock. I got the script and shouted ‘This is me!’.”
The pair begin listening to the soundtracks as soon as shows are announced and receive the script approximately 2-4 weeks before show time. They will use every day they can get to research the history, context and language of the show. They don’t use a script on stage, but they do make detailed notes and practice with one another to prevent all of the surprises they can. It is a live show, after all, and on occasion they have been caught off guard by a magician choosing a patron in need of interpretation for a magic trick, by a booming subwoofer speaker nearly knocking them off their feet or an adlibbed line catching them by surprise.
After spending so much time learning the character as an interpreter, these theater enthusiasts still don’t necessarily feel the need to act out the role on stage.
“I think it’s a blessing,” Reed says about her one-night-only stints playing the star of the show. “I can’t imagine doing it on Broadway for how long – a year? This one character? It would be really trying to find the energy to do that. But we get this beautiful thing where when a show comes we get to be this character only once – or sometimes a few times – and then let it go.”
The two could talk forever about the challenges and intricacies of interpreting for live theater and agree that while it’s a lot of work to prepare for roles that their names will never be listed next to in the playbill, providing equal access to the arts is their only goal – well, and maybe having a little fun along the way.
More information on American Sign Language performances and other accessibility services can be found at foxcitiespac.com.