Fringe interpreter signs shows for the deaf

Signer Paul Belmonte. Picture: Jane Barlow
Signer Paul Belmonte. Picture: Jane Barlow
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AS performers go, he’s now well and truly a Fringe regular – despite never speaking a word.

Paul Belmonte, 44, is now in his eighth year as a sign language interpreter at the event. He has handled a variety of productions in comedy and drama and this year faces the challenge of Swallow at the Traverse Theatre.

The “dark and poetic” show, scripted by Stef Smith, features three characters who feel varying degrees of fury and fear towards the world at large.

Paul said: “I love the theatre and I love performance – that’s why I love interpreting at the Fringe so much.

“More and more companies are now introducing interpreters to their shows and I think this is making a difference to the amount of deaf people attending the Festival.

“There is a vibrant arts and theatre environment among the deaf community.”

Paul, who works full-time as an interpreter for Deaf Action in Edinburgh, was in his 30s before he decided he wanted to learn sign language in 2001.

Having left school at 15, he was scrubbing tenement stairs for a living when he met a deaf woman at his local church and wanted to communicate with her. After undertaking a course at Heriot-Watt University, Paul secured a job as a full-time interpreter and soon combined it with his love for the theatre.

He said: “My day job involves a lot of health work, doctor’s appointments etc.

“I’ve been to weddings, funerals, prenatal scans. Sometimes things will be going well and we’ll be giving people good news, but on other occasions we will be giving them the very worst news.

“Then we see their world being turned upside down.

“We have to be sensitive and professional, but sometimes I do shed a wee tear.”

Paul will also be interpreting at Aisling Bea’s comedy performance this year, which he saw for the first time on Monday night.

He described the performance as “really rapid” but said he is looking forward to being involved. He added: “I do a lot of interpreting throughout the day so that’s why I only do a few shows at the Fringe. But having sign language interpreters at the performances brings diversity to the Festival.”