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January 20, 2003

On the Job: She signed on to interpret plays

From: Sacramento Bee, CA - 20 Jan 2003

By Pat Rubin -- Bee Staff

At a recent Mondavi Center performance of the musical "Rent," a second performance ran concurrently alongside.

Two people constituted its "cast," and they never said -- or sang -- a word, at least not that anyone could hear.

One of those two was Bobbie Jackson, who sat on a wooden stool to the left of the stage. A light shone on her as she interpreted the play in sign language.

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Jackson and a co-worker alternated signing the show for the hearing-impaired and deaf audience members. They signed every word, every emotion, and even explained what was happening with the other characters in the story. Each character's angst was Jackson's angst; each character's triumph, Jackson's triumph.

Jackson has been interpreting plays in the Sacramento area for about 23 years. The first play she interpreted was for a deaf woman whose son was in a play. "I said I'd give it a try, and that's how I found my love. I found my niche," Jackson said.

For 14 of those years Jackson volunteered her time, but now she gets paid.

She's met celebrities from all over the world and interpreted more than 300 different plays. She estimates she rehearses 20 to 30 hours for each show.

A lot of interesting things have happened along the way, Jackson said, and sometimes she's included in the play. To wit: she's been squirted with water, kissed by an actor, had her hair accidentally set on fire, been kicked by a dancer and just avoided being urinated on by a dog.

Jackson became interested in sign language when she was in grade school. A classmate had a deaf sister, and Jackson was surprised to learn that her classmate couldn't use sign language. Intrigued, she took sign language classes in college and went to visit her friend's sister. "I learned to sign, 'My name is Bobbie Jackson.' The girl started signing at me, but I didn't know everything she was saying." They ended up taking sign language classes together and remain friends.

Today, Jackson teaches sign language at American River College and California State University, Sacramento, and is co-owner of A Show of Hands, a nonprofit organization she helped start about three years ago. She has been teaching sign language since 1983.

"I'm a successful businesswoman today, but I would have nothing and be nothing if it weren't for my deaf friends and teachers. They took me by the hand and explained things and taught me the rules," Jackson said. "Those teachers gave me my dream, and today when I'm teaching I feel like I'm giving my students their dream."

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