Paul Belmonte on signing Shakespeare for the Deaf

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A chance meeting with a deaf woman propelled Paul Belmonte into a career that has seen him become interwoven with the Scottish deaf community as a sign language interpreter.

Paul Belmonte holds up his index finger and hits it backwards and forwards with a closed fist before bringing two horizontal index fingers together, then wagging the right one. “The man who robbed you – like what?” he says paraphrasing, for my benefit, an exchange between a clown and the rogue Autolycus from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. But it’s his facial expressions, a furrowing of the eyebrows here, a pursing of the lips there, that invest the story with real drama. Watching him fill the space in front of him with fluid shapes, conjuring up images from thin air, it is impossible not to see signing for deaf people as an art form.

Belmonte is a qualified British Sign Language interpreter; as such he is the interface between Scotland’s deaf and hearing populations. In any given week, he can find himself accompanying clients to hospital appointments or parents’ meetings or disciplinary hearings.

Dealing with the same people year in year out, his life has become interwoven with the community he serves. He is there for their most intimate moments – prenatal scans, first days at school, weddings and funerals. “There’s a lot of health work,” he says. “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 tear.”

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