Ottawa’s Speaking Vibrations are bringing a unique and genre-defying performance in American Sign Language to the Halifax Fringe Festival this weekend. It will feature song, poetry, music and dance. To learn more, host Jeff Douglas was joined by one of the show’s co-producers and performers, Jordan Samonas.
Jeff Douglas: Halifax Fringe Festival is kicking off this Thursday. In recent years you might have noticed a trend toward making theatre performances more accessible. This year a group from Ottawa is bringing a production specifically designed for both d/Deaf / hard of hearing and non d/Deaf audiences. Speaking Vibrations is a genre defying performance in American Sign Language, song, poetry, music and dance. So to find out a little more about it, we have reached one of the shows co-producers and performers Jordan Samonas.
Jordan, Welcome to Main Street. How are you?
Jordan Samonas: Hi, I’m great, thanks. How are you doing?
Jeff: Doing really well. I’m really happy to be speaking with you. You and your Speaking Vibrations co-creators have built accessibility into everything in the show – your aesthetic and your design – from the very, very beginning. Can you tell us what it was that that started you on this journey?
Jordan: Yeah, totally. You know, our group is made-up of folks with lived experiences of accessibility. For example, one of our performers is a deaf artist herself, Jo-Anne Bryan, and another of our performers and co -producers, Carmelle Cachero, works as an ASL interpreter professionally and in theatre. So the idea of accessibility is simply literally built into the lived experiences and professional experiences of the folks in this show. So it’s just naturally a part of our creative process and how we build accessibility into our production itself.
Jeff: Could you give us a sense of what the show, what the experience is like – what it looks like, what it sounds like?
Jordan: Sure. So what it looks like is four women on stage. You’re going to see and hear rhythm, tap, dance. Percussive dance, so body percussion, spoken word and song and even rap as well as contemporary dance and lastly, ASL song and poetry is an art form that is highlighted in the show. In addition to this, we have projections on the back of the stage that show captions of the English words that are heard or sung throughout the performance, as well as English translations of the ASL poetry in the show. And these captions, we call them creative captions because they’re actually dynamic. They’re animated. And they move throughout the production as a piece of art and a piece of design in the show. And the most exciting part we think about the show is that we have vibrotactile devices, twelve of these systems that sit in the audience so that select audience members can actually experience the show as feeling and vibration.
Jeff: It’s amazing, Jordan, because it like this pursuit of accessibility has also spawned this (it sounds like) just incredible outside the box creativity.
Jordan: Yeah, you know it really has. I mean a lot of us, the four of us in the group, there’s the four of us who you will see on stage who are the creators of the show. But as well we have two directors working with us from Ottawa, Jacqui du Toit and Pamela Witcher. Pamela Witcher is our Deaf Culture Director and you know the way that we all collaborate with each other and the way that accessibility was built into the show like you just said it. It just breeds ideas upon ideas every time we’re in rehearsal. There’s a new idea about how to incorporate text or how to incorporate a different sign or gesture. We’re just continually thinking about how do we make this? How do we make this accessible? What about this moment in the show? How would a d/Deaf person understand this moment or experience this moment? What about a person who’s Blind? So definitely, it just breeds ideas and that’s a constant part of our creative process.
Jeff: That’s so amazing. Because, you know, there might be some folks who hear about, you know, like making live performances more accessible. They may think, oh, this is restrictive, this is something now that we have to, we have to think about on top of everything else. But it sounds like your experience has been almost completely the opposite of that, which is that it’s opened doors of creativity.
Jordan: Exactly, yeah. You know, a lot of people think about access as a job. You know it’s
Jeff: Like an obligation or something, right?
Jordan: Exactly. It’s like we’ve, you know, we’ve made this play, we’ve made this performance and then uh, oh, you know, maybe we should get an interpreter and whoops, you know, we don’t have, actually, we don’t have the budget for that.
Whereas for us, because it’s, you know, working with interpreters and having captions, that’s just a part that has to be a part of the way that we work together as d/Deaf and hearing artists and experts. So it is, simply for us, it’s built in. It’s what makes it beautiful. And beyond the other jobs and tasks of creating a production, we feel that this simply enhances our show. It’s yeah, it’s not an afterthought. It’s part of it, but certainly it’s still also a process we’re learning too. We’re constantly learning about how to become more accessible and it’s something that we want to encourage other producers and other artists and other presenters with. Like hey, accessibility, it’s not a job, it’s a priority and it’s fun.
Jeff: And I think that what I’ve been hearing – what’s been revelatory for me in this conversation – is what you just said. It’s not after the fact, that this was built in from the get go and then that’s where this freedom comes from. And it, and it sounds to me that you know, what I’m hearing too, is that the form, like thematically the theme of the show, is intertwined and bred into the actual form and presentation of it.
Jordan: That’s right. So you know our creative interests and our strengths as artists, these are the things that are interweaved throughout the show. This, this idea of blending art form. So we see, you know, we see rhythm, tap dance, we see spoken, spoken word beside ASL song and poetry. We see contemporary dance with rap. So this idea of blending art forms, exploring the visualization and tactilization of sound and music. You know, of course for sound, for hearing folks or for musicians or music lovers, sound of course is very important. But the idea of sound and music, we’re disrupting that in this show. And we say, you know, sound is vibration. Watch me dance, feel me sing. And we see that sound and music and movement is more than just what you think you understand about it. That’s what our show is about.
Jeff: And would you say, Jordan, that the process of making this show has changed the way you think about performance?
Jordan: Definitely, yeah, definitely. I mean. Certainly I used to think about performance in, I think, a very particular and you know not very expansive way. So for example, you know a dance has to be like this. If I’m going to see a ballet performance it should look like this. If I’m going to see a jazz concert, it should look and sound like this and what we’ve learned altogether in our production is that performance art can look and sound and feel like so many different things. So what we have with this, the vibrotactile component is where we’re exploring and expanding this idea of The art experience and an art making practice. So how can this be made possible for diverse audiences and for diverse artists?
Jeff: How many performances do you have, Jordan?
Jordan: We have 3 performances actually, so we’re in Halifax for the long weekend and we perform on September 1st to 3rd, the Friday through Sunday. So we’re here, we perform three times with a little talk back on Sunday night, and we’re at the Scotiabank Theatre at Neptune.
Jeff: And you’re at the Scotiabank Theatre at Neptune? That’s a fantastic venue as well.
Jordan: That’s right. We are super excited to be performing there.
Jeff: Jordan, really thank you so much for your work and for this conversation. I appreciate it.
Jordan: Thank you very much. Thanks for making time for us today. And anyone who’s looking to buy tickets to Halifax Fringe Festival can go to halifaxfringe.ca. And thank you so much again for prioritizing our story.
Jeff: You bet.
Jeff: Jordan Samonas is one of the Co producers and performers of Speaking Vibration show, it’s going to be staged at the Scotiabank Theatre at Neptune. Performances start this Friday. For details, go to halifaxfringe.ca.