On a day when so many surreal images and news updates were filling the screens and airwaves for those tracking the latest on Hurricane Sandy, there was one surprising star born – Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s sign language interpreter.
Television and livestream viewers of Bloomberg’s press conferences found themselves listening to the mayor’s words, but transfixed by Lydia Callis’s larger than life animated signing.
Callis, who has gone viral, turned the usually understated practice of signing into first-class performance art, acting out the mayor’s message to New Yorkers. It was reportedly her first time interpreting at a press conference.
The Internet’s newest sensation – already the recipient of numerous marriage proposals on Twitter – did for signing what Michael Phelps did for swimming and Melky Cabrera did for baseball.
When in his characteristic fatherly but flat way the mayor described dire scenarios, she made a face that spelled devastation. When he spoke about tough decisions or confusions, she looked off into space, illustrating confusion.
And what got the most love were her hands – essential to signing, of course, but Callis’s hands became stars all themselves, like those of Manhattan’s most theatrical white-gloved traffic cops, or a masterful mime.
New York magazine said that Callis gave those who watched the press conference “a legitimate reason to smile.”
“There haven’t been a lot of famous sign language interpreters before this,” a Time magazine story said. “She was not only able to translate the important words of the Mayor to anxious viewers across the country, but also provided clear, coherent and animated explanations to millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans.”
Little is known publicly thus far about Callis, whose spontaneity somehow worked with her business look -- simple short hair style and dark blue tailored suit. There was a debate on the Internet about the spelling of her last name, with some saying they’d seen “Calas” and others insisting it was “Callis.
But there was little debate about the extra dimension she gave to the press conferences, and to a day when people found little else to captivate them in a warm way.
Ginger Fires, or @GingerFires, tweeted “#LydiaCallis turns Bloomberg's monotone press conferences into an energetic interpretive dance by Rosie Perez.”
Twitter member @durtymo said: “Bloomberg speaking & all I wanna see is the sign language lady from yesterday! #LydiaCallis yes.”
Another member, @CosmicFluke, simply state: “The new face of 2012, #LydiaCallis.”
And Adam J. Reid, or @read_reid, a Georgia State University law student, wrote: “If you don't love #LydiaCallis you weren't watching a news network last night. http://lydiacalasface.tumblr.com.
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Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente