Sign language interpreter ALAN CHAMPION was born on this date (d: 2011); Champion moved to New York City with the dream of performing on stage and ended up with a very different kind of role. “A very satisfying one,” he said.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Champion communicated with his deaf parents as a toddler using sign language. Family members told him that he first lifted his hands to try to sign when he was two years old. Raised Southern Baptist he developed his voice as a singer in his church choir. He enrolled in Oral Roberts University but left without graduating because, he said, as a Gay man he did not feel comfortable at a Christian school.
He worked as an interpreter at community colleges and theater companies in Tulsa and St. Louis before heading to New York in 1980. A month after arriving he received a letter from the Theater Development Fund announcing auditions for interpreters for Broadway shows. He was selected to sign interpret for The Elephant Man. An interpreter on the panel that selected him said he stood out for his calm but intense work when others could become distracted or flustered by the noise or energy of the performances only a few feet away.
As much at ease interpreting The Elephant Man and ‘night Mother as he was with musicals like A Chorus Line and Les Miserables, Mr. Champion continued signing on Broadway through two rounds of chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. Deaf and hard-of-hearing Broadway patrons considered Alan Champion a star in his own right, their own shining light on Broadway. He died of cancer of the appendix in April 2011.