ASL As Part Of The Performance Rather Than Reporting The Performance

There was a really interesting article in Dance Magazine about artists using American Sign Language (ASL) as part of dance performances or to underscore movement in shows. One choreographer, Bailey Ann Vincent, says that she knows most of the audience is hearing, but if there is someone that communicates using ASL, they will have a richer experience:

For Vincent, using ASL in her choreography—which might mean incorporating a sign to emphasize an emotion a character is feeling, or to communicate what a lyric is saying—is both an artistic choice and an accessibility-related one. Though her audience is mostly hearing, “I still try to approach all our shows assuming there might be someone who is Deaf in the audience,” she says.

Another dancer said when he was asked to move beyond the role of an interpreter for a performance, it changed his perception about the role of ASL as a medium of communication.

…“She asked me to represent all sounds in sign language, and also use my body as a dancer,” says Kazen-Maddox. “It was the most mind-shifting thing for me, because I was seen as an artist and a dancer and a performer, and was also representing in sign language everything that was happening.”

The experience was the beginning of a shift in Kazen-Maddox’s career, away from simply facilitating communication between­ Deaf and hearing individuals as an interpreter­ and towards an emerging genre Kazen-Maddox calls “American Sign Language dance theater.” But it was also indicative of a wider shift in the performing arts, one that is more artistically fulfilling for Deaf and ASL-fluent artists and that also repositions accessibility: Rather than something tacked on to and separate from the performance, it is something deeply ingrained and integrated.

But as you might imagine, as the use of ASL as an artistic element increases, there are concerns about it being co-opted. It is important to remain conscious and thoughtful about the intent behind the use of ASL as an artistic element and avoid employing it in a superficial manner or in the service of ill-considered goals.

…And when hearing artists and audiences value how signs look over what they mean, the fusion of dance and ASL can become offensive rather than enriching. Antoine the example of a hearing choreographer asking him to “reverse” a sign because it would look cool, which then made it meaningless or changed it into a distasteful word.

“When people who are not native signers see ASL incorporated with movement, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful,’ ” says Alexandria Wailes, a Deaf dancer and actor, through an interpreter. “Which is valid in its own right, but ASL is a language that is tied to culture, communities, and history. It’s not just something that you look at or do because it feels cool and it’s beautiful.”

No Knitting Backstage In Germany Please

Rainer Glaap, an arts administrator working in Germany reached out with an update about the publication of his second book whose title translates as Knitting Forbidden! The book covers laws which applied to theater in Bremen from 1820 and for Leipzig from 1841. The bulk of the laws applied to the practice of theater in those places with a handful applying to the audience.

I’m not sure if it is the actors and technicians or audience members who weren’t permitted to knit. Maybe both. You gotta keep your eyes on those knitters!

Rainer notes that while some of the laws are somewhat humorous in the context of the present day, many remain very topical. He mentions that while there weren’t intimacy coordinators working in theater 200 years ago, there were laws to protect female actors that read like intimacy guidelines today:

“Apart from the author’s instructions, kissing is not allowed. – It must never happen that you lift a woman up and kiss her. – Under no circumstances must a man kiss a woman on the mouth; If the author has linked the kiss to the action, then kiss the cheek or forehead. – There are also special touches that you have to avoid, e.g. B. if a man comes too close to the breast while holding a woman. Anyone who trades against one of these points pays 8 gr. Punishment.”
(§105 of the Leipzig Theater Laws of 1841).

If you read German and want to buy the book, it can be found here –

According to the descriptions of the book there, it was the actors who weren’t permitted to knit during rehearsal. I still think there is probably some wisdom in watching audience members who bring pointy sticks into the theater though.

20th Anniversary Of Butts In The Seats

This past Friday, February 23 marked the 20th anniversary of this blog. While Drew McManus often remembers the anniversary better than I do, I did recall the anniversary was coming up prior to the actual date.

When I first started back in 2004, I used a platform provided by my internet service provider for a total of two entries. It was quickly clear that their set up was not suitable for blogging. I ended up switching to Movable Type which I stayed on for awhile until Drew McManus invited me to join the Inside The Arts platform.  I am glad he did because the technical requirements for maintaining the blog were quickly outstripping my ability and interest.

Happily, Drew was far more skilled in such things. And while his focus on expanding his business to provide websites and ticketing CRM for arts organizations led to the sunsetting his blog, Adaptistration, his company embodies the same approach as his blog–providing useful tools and advice for arts and cultural organizations. At one time you might have read his posts or attended conference sessions on how to effectively use Google Analytics or analyze 990 filings for orchestra compensation. Now he focuses on making it easier for customers to learn about organizations, events, and feel comfortable rather than overwhelmed purchasing tickets.

While I didn’t initially mean to make this post an ad for his company, I have known Drew a long time, and our conversations have informed many of my posts. (He recently commented in a Zoom conference that I was the attendee he had known the longest and met in person the least.)

However, my initial inspiration to start blogging was another Andrew — Andrew Taylor, who writes the Artful Manager blog. I actually wrote to him with a comment on one of his posts shortly before starting my blog and he included my response in a later post. (Mine is the one about Chick tracts) I was so thrilled, I made it the subject of my second blog post.

There have been a lot of people who have influenced my thinking over the years. At the risk of overlooking some important ones, I will cite Carter Gilles and Nina Simon as being among those who have helped to shift my thinking and improve the way I operate professionally. The point being, this blog hasn’t emerged from a vacuum but stands on the shoulders of giants who have come before.

When I look back at some of my earlier posts, I have to cringe at some as I compare where I am now philosophically and professionally. Certainly others have stood the test of time. This blog does reflect much of the general thought about how arts and cultural organizations should operate so it is also a testament to how the general thought has evolved over the last two decades.

My view is that things have been moving in a more constructive direction in terms of being more audience and community-centric. This has manifested in orientations toward welcoming and inclusivity for community members, but also staff and volunteers. There have been increased implementation of policies to create better work environments for employees at all levels, including interns and apprentices.

Yes, there are still a ton of hostile work environments out there. You don’t have to look far or hard to find stories about organizational leaders who seem to be intentionally doing the worst they can to make people miserable. I have written about a lot of them. But you can absolutely see examples of organizations who are breaking away from the long seated mentality of the show must go on even if it destroys you/you have to pay your dues like I did/suffer for your art.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading all the while

Take Care That Mural Isn’t Destroying Instead Of Revitalizing

I was walking through a building lobby when I noticed a table with a pamphlet discouraging people from painting murals on their brick buildings. My first thought was that this city department was undermining community beautification efforts. But as I read more closely, I realized the brochure was warning people about some very real issues associated with damaging the structural integrity of buildings.

If you are a member of the arts community trying to cultivate a more creative environment in your city, you don’t want to have your beautification efforts responsible for hastening the decline of the very neighborhoods you are trying to revitalize.

I recently wrote an ArtsHacker post citing some of the issues raised by the brochure I came across.

I mentioned the following among the things to consider, but there are more details in the full post:

Many of the issues painting brick structures creates are related to trapping moisture in what is normally a relatively porous, breathable material. Temperature changes causing expansion of that moisture can undermine the structural integrity of the brick and mortar.  The paint can obscure the development of these issues until the damage becomes severe and repairs more costly and extensive.


Keep in mind that geographic location should also be factored in to the materials and process chosen. The guide linked to here is calibrated to the conditions of cold, snowy winters and glaring summer sun at elevations exceeding one mile. Murals will weather differently in the relatively warmer, more humid climes of the southeast and drier, hotter deserts of the southwest, as well as the mix of annual weather conditions across the rest of the US.



Don’t Be Too Quick To Paint That Mural