Alan Champion (1955-2011)

[Image Description: A black and white photograph of a white man with short, light colored hair and light eyes, smiling. His hands are clasped under his chin.]
Image courtesy of Alice Champion Burnett.
As a well known theatre interpreter, actor, and singer, Alan Champion was frequently referred to as “Mr. Broadway”. His interest in theatre began at a young age. In an interview with Keith Wann, Champion remembered that he was drawn to music and performing as a child (ASL Radio Show).

Champion was born July 8, 1955 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His parents divorced while he was young and his mother, a graduate of the Oklahoma School for the Deaf, was the primary caregiver (ASL Radio Show). Champion described his mother as “old-world Deaf” and a “beautiful signer, arguably the best in history”. From her, he learned ASL at home with his three siblings, a younger sister and two older brothers. Reportedly, he signed his first word at age two (360Translations). Though he had interpreted a bit as a child, Champion noted that he didn’t jump into the field when he was in college. He enrolled at Oral Roberts University to study music and wanted to be a singer, but began interpreting as a way to earn money.

In 1980 he moved to New York in 1980 to pursue a career in the theatre. Soon after arriving he auditioned with the Theatre Development Fund . It is believed that his live interpretation of the Elephant Man, starring David Bowie, may have been the first formal interpretation on Broadway (Deaf Life, 6/2013, p 16). Prior to his efforts, deaf theatre-goers frequently relied on hearing friends to provide interpreting assistance. Under the efforts of the Theatre Development Fund the interpreter’s role was formally coordinated, with lighting and timing worked out with producers, actors, and stage crew.

Watch his interview with Keith Wann of ASL Radio for more information.

Champion served as a theatrical interpreter for over thirty years, interpreting 15 to 20 performances a season. He was interviewed by the New York Times about his experiences as an interpreter in 2010 and described the importance of finding a balance between interpreting and performing. He highlighted the difficulty of separating oneself from the performance. In the interview, Champion remembered his emotional reaction to A Chorus Line. “‘I couldn’t help but get a little teary,’ said Mr. Champion, who is openly gay. ‘But I’ve found that some audience members appreciate seeing that the words have meaning and impact for me, too.’” As a well-respected interpreter Champion was committed to honoring the efforts of performers as well as the audience.

In 2009, Champion was diagnosed with appendix cancer. Despite the strains of chemotherapy, he continued to work as an interpreter. He died in April, 2011. For more information about Alan Champion, see Deaf Life (June 2013, pg 16), visit his Hands On employee profile and this New York Times article. Obituaries by The New York Times and 360 Translations International Inc. describe his extensive impact.

[Image description: In the center a hand, outlined in black, signs "Spotlight". A yellow shaft of light emanates from the palm, creating a spotlight. Black text to the right reads "Koda Spotlight".]