Scott Baker, director of marketing and recruiting for Lipscomb University’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts, serves the good of all with the work of his hands.
“I went to high school in a suburb of Washington D.C., which has the largest deaf population in the country. There was a cute deaf girl at my school. So, I learned American Sign Language (ASL),” said Baker of how his now thriving practice as an interpreter got its start. “It was nothing noble!”
Though opportunistic as his initial desire to learn ASL may have been, Baker took this interest and his talent to the next level by filling an essential role as an interpreter.
“I come from a big family of interpreters in a bunch of different languages, but none of them in sign language. So there was definitely a, ‘I’m going to do my own thing’ element to it,” he explained of why he chose to continue his pursuit of ASL.
Early in his practice, Baker found ways to connect his love of acting with his new communication tool. “I started learning ASL to better communicate with deaf friends in school. As luck would have it, our drama department decided to do ‘Children of a Lesser God,’ which is a play about deaf people and sign language. Because I had been learning ASL and was heavily involved in the drama department, I was cast and learned even more,” said Baker.
Later, Baker transformed his ASL fluency into a tool to serve others via a spur-of-the-moment need within his church. “One of the interpreters bailed, and the guy who was left turned to me and announced, ‘Okay, you’re up,’” Baker recalled.
“I said, ‘What?’ He interrupted me and said, ‘No really, I need help.’ So I got thrown into it,” he laughed.
Of the importance of interpreting among Christians, Baker highlighted the difference of the language. “Imagine trying to find the word of God in a language that was secondary to you. We translated the Bible to primary languages to bring it to people,” he explained.
“For deaf people, ASL is their first language—not English. Our understanding of how we share the Word with this community is challenged. It’s about missionary vocation, or taking the word of God to people where they are. For the deaf community, we do this through ASL.”
Baker used his interpreting abilities to fund his pursuit of an acting career, interpreting by day and performing at night. “I’ve stuck with it and it’s been really cool for me because each time I’ve moved to a new city, I pick up work as an interpreter because there is always need,” he said.
Baker loves the challenge and collaboration inherent to interpreting. “It’s fun; I enjoy it. It’s very much like sight-reading and accompaniment for musicians. You have to be in time and in tune with the other musicians. The interpreter has to fit in with what is happening on stage,” he said.
At Lipscomb, Baker used his unique skill to inspire running a production of “The Miracle Worker” in the fall of 2017. “The ‘Miracle Worker’ was a special one,” said Baker. “For the production, we did shadow interpreting, which is where the interpreter follows each actor on stage like a shadow, interpreting,” Baker described.
Shadow interpreting, a logistically challenging technique, is a treat for deaf audience members as it allows them to follow the action on stage like other audience members. They are able to receive the language and spoken word in context rather than out of frame, as commonly experienced with a standard performance interpreting set.
“We ended up selling out the performance. It was a really cool event,” Baker reflected.
Aside from Baker’s spiritual and dramatic utilization of his ASL fluency, he fills a special niche among interpreters: Shakespeare.
“It’s not an area many interpreters tackle,” said Baker. “So much of interpreting happens simultaneously. For most people, hearing Shakespeare’s language takes a higher degree of processing time. The ability to listen and let the meaning sink in, while also processing it into another language is not as common. It is basically double-translating.”
Some might think interpreters have the assistance of the script during a performance. With Shakespeare, Baker explained, interpretation must be immediate. “It has to go in the ear, out the brain and to the hands; there is no time to read a script,” he said.
Though a Shakespeare expert, even Baker is occasionally stumped. “I did have to spend extra time with several lesser-performed works this past summer, “said Baker. “They did ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and the ‘Winter’s Tale.’ I had to spend a bit more time with those scripts.”
Baker plans to continue interpreting this summer with Nashville’s Shakespeare in the Park, where he has interpreted productions for the past five years. In addition, Baker will direct in the fall.
With his direction and influence within the ASL and interpreting community, Baker works to increase knowledge. “When I direct, it’s interpreted because I’ll have deaf friends who want to come to the production,” said Baker. “I work to create collaborations and partnerships for ASL education, interpretation and awareness.”
“There are a lot of things we can do to make deafness and ASL more visible. The arts are a great way to do that, and I am not subtle in finding ways to use art to do this,” he said.
Baker seeks to accomplish this through his involvement with several upcoming expansions to Lipscomb’s campus. The addition of a performing arts center and theater on Granny White is anticipated to bring professional performing artists for workshops and performances.
“We’ll have multiple stages and venues, and we’re hoping to have more live performances happening right here in Green Hills over the next few years,” said Baker.
For more information on Lipscomb University’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts visit the website.