Spotlight on ASL-Interpreter Extraordinaire, Liz Mendoza

Jason Blitman

For over three decades, San Diego Junior Theatre has been offering American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted performances for each of its productions. And one interpreter in particular, Liz Mendoza, has been devoted to SDJT since the beginning! Every season, Liz oversees booking interpreters for each production and very often takes on the performances herself. We decided it was time to shine the JT spotlight on Liz and her invaluable work!

SDJT: How long have you been working as an ASL interpreter for live performances?

Liz: I have been interpreting theatre since 1984 when I interpreted Candida for my capstone project with two other students in the interpreting program at Mesa College. Since then, I have loved interpreting for the theatre. In 1999, I auditioned for and was accepted into the inaugural year of the Theatre Development Fund’s “Interpreting for the Theatre” weeklong seminar at The Juilliard School in New York City. We interpreted Les Misérables on Broadway for our final project.

SDJT: Wow! That must have been an incredible experience! And how long have you been doing interpretation for Junior Theatre?

Liz: I believe I have been interpreting at Junior Theatre since about 1990. I love interpreting shows at Junior Theatre! It is a wonderful venue to mentor future theatre interpreters. Many interpreters don’t realize how much work goes into interpreting for a show. We have to memorize every aspect of the show, including lighting, blocking, mannerisms, off-stage audio, in addition to the lines and songs.

SDJT: I imagine many audience members don’t realize how much time and effort is devoted to preparation. Do you have a favorite Junior Theatre production that you’ve interpreted for?

Liz: They are all so good! I am particularly impressed with the Shakespeare shows, which provide a unique challenge to interpret into ASL. These shows take much more time to rehearse than non-Shakespeare shows. There is a lot of time-intensive research that we have to do to make a parallel experience for the Deaf audience with the hearing audience.

SDJT: Do you have any stories to share about interpreting for JT shows? Any special moments or highlights?

Liz: Interpreting at Junior Theatre is always such a welcoming experience. Backstage in the green room is always fun because the kids are interested in either learning ASL or showing us that they have learned some signs. My favorite part was when ASL was incorporated into a show. I consulted on that and was so proud of their performance!

SDJT: Do you also provide interpretation for other types of events or situations outside of entertainment?

Liz: I have been a full-time interpreter since 1984, working mostly in the community (education, medical, legal, etc.) in addition to interpreting shows at Junior Theatre, Civic Theatre and the Old Globe. I am currently a full-time ASL-English Interpreting professor at Palomar College, while interpreting part-time.

SDJT: Your passion for this work is so clear. What sparked your interest in doing this?

Liz: A fun fact is that during the summers growing up, I accompanied my aunt, Valerie Victor (Maschner), while she played piano for rehearsals and performances at Junior Theatre in the ‘70s. She inspired my interest in the performing arts and I acted and danced for many years. Theatre interpreting is another aspect of being involved in the performing arts.

SDJT: Amazing! I had not realized your relationship with Junior Theatre began at an early age! Do you have future aspirations with this line of work?

Liz: My goal is to have all theatre accessible to all people. It is important to be forward thinking when planning performances and not adding interpreters as an afterthought. Junior Theatre does an amazing job of providing access and inclusion for its patrons and actors. 

If you are interested in following Liz’s work, please check out her Facebook page: Stage Signs of San Diego. And, of course, make sure to attend our ASL-interpreted performances (the last Saturday of each production) to see Liz and her colleagues make the onstage magic accessible to those in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community!

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