This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > > Signdance at the PAH Festival

Signdance Blog

Signdance Collective

Photo of Signdance Collective in But Beautiful Ana Destnica ljbliana

Signdance Collective send their regards from Philadelphia

October 18 – November 20, 2007 sees the PAH Deaf Arts and Culture Festival taking Philadelphia by storm.

One of the festival highlights will see Signdance Collective performing their groundbreaking show But Beautiful - a spectacle of performance and dance, celebrating the the life and music of American jazz great, Art Pepper.

For more information about PAH Festival go to

Signdance Blog 29/10/07

Hey how are ya doin’ a big yo! from Philadelphia. We got in two days ago and after 48 hrs of jetlag I am starting to realize that its not a dream and we are in actual fact here in Pennsylvania. Although I am conscious of that fact, it still feels like a dream, you hear of people talking about how beautiful America is in the autumn, well please allow me to confirm that they are not kidding.

We at the Signdance Collective are here to present our new work “…but beautiful”, we are participating in whats been touted as the biggest disability arts festival in the world. Whilst the deaf theatre festival has its own identity in the festival it has linked with this festival and has been going for about two weeks already. The Deaf Festival is called 'PAH', this is defined as an American sign language (A.S.L) term meaning- success at last. It has been organized by Creative Access under the auspices of Carol Finkle, the kinetic and dynamic director who does nothing by half measures. Carol is going to be leaving this role after many years working in the deaf community and this festival is in part is her final ‘Pah’.

When we touched down in Philly we headed straight to the first event that we were able to see, it was at Platt student performing arts house on Spruce street. In the foyer there were quotations by well known American artists, one struck me in particular was Martha Grahams “it is through dance that we can finally see our soul”. With these words of wisdom to bolster my constitution I joined the audience and settled down to watch a good old school performance of magic called “The extraordinary Deaf Cirque Carnivale.”

The show was hosted by a deaf man called Dr.Simon J. Carmel an anthropologist/magician, as well as being the worlds premiere researcher of deaf survivors of Hitlers brutal ww11 campaigns he is a sleight of hand conjuror of the highest order. Introducing each act by performing feats of magic involving the New York Times and decked out in a classy evening suit he imparted an air of elegance to this show involving fire eaters, levitators, clowns and an Abbot and Costello style act from California. At times the performance exuded a real Americana energy with shades of a David Lynch film. For example David Lulling ,deaf himself a fire eater bearing a strong resemblance to the film actor Harry Dean-Stanton of Paris/Texas a movie directed by Wim Wenders. Decked out in a cowboy hat and snake skin boots proceeded to apologise to us when he burped “sorry it’s the gas” meaning the petrol he uses in the fire show. David hails from Minnesota, you can tell he spends a lot of time outside, his face is etched with experience he describes himself as a druid/pagan, who also makes magic-wands beautifully carved from wood “generally I sell’ em at thirty dollars a piece but sometimes I sell’ em for three or four hundred dollars a pop”. David describes himself as a carnie or a festie which means he does a lot of festivals, he took up fire eating after attending Gauledette college in Washington in the early seventies.

Okay that’s my bell I have to go I will be working this blog for the next week so stay stationed as my schedule means I also have to get in and get out for our show “…but beautiful”, so long p’dnar!!! Dave.

Signdance collective blog 30/10/07

The next day we caught up with Johnny Crescendo who now lives in Philly. We had dinner at his apartment and discussed some forth coming projects. I ask Johnny if he wanted to do an interview for the blog, watch this space for more on that one.

I woke up this morning to a faint refrain of Ry Cooders slide guitar and tumbleweed scuffling across the dust, the dream dissolving into the bright Philadelphia sunshine, we headed off to the next stop of the “the extraordinary deaf cirque carnivale”. We turned on to Washington avenue and there opposite was the Mummers museum. An amazing building, obviously it was a cinema back in the day, an art-deco affair with strong Hooperesque undertones.

Outside on the sidewalk Fred Lulling was there to welcome us, he himself cutting a figure in his cowboy hat and snakeskin boots. He signed for us to go through and meet the other magicians who were all prepping for the show that afternoon. The going concern was about communication, as the entire show was in sign, the performers were concerned about the number of non-signers attending. Turned out okay though, as a lot of children dropping their jaws and cracking up with laughter at the jokes soon dispelled the concern. Steve Longacre and Greg Koppel a double act from California (both Deaf), had a great rapport as an Abbot and Costello Style delivery sent the audience reeling in stitches. After the show the bigger guy was saying when we got in to Philly the hotel ask if he wanted a wheelchair he was amazed saying “I’am deaf, an interpreter would be a lot more useful to me right now”. They both have been working together for nigh on twenty years so their timing was impeccable. Meantime Isolte ran into a couple of visiters to the museum who told her the story of who the mummers were, on the face of it they used to do a lot of parades downtown, twirling batons and wearing Rio carnival style dress. Whereas in reality they were like a secret club who coined the phrase “Shhh!..mums the word” meaning it was like a pro-slavery organization that wanted to keep it under wraps. Nowadays however the place has been bought and turned in to an ironic museum that draws a large attendance of black American visitors due to its sinister role in black American history.

As I write, I’am at Liberty Resources centre for independent living on market street which is downtown amid the skyscrapers. Herman L. Parodi independent living specialist who hails from Puerto Rico is helping me to access the internet for this blog, I really am a bit of a luddite, who never fully got computer savvy. He has been to see some of the other productions, I asked him if he could tell me what event at ‘Pah’ has knocked him out so far, Theatre in the Sky performed by Bernard Bragg, co-founder of the American National Theatre of the Deaf. This show was amazing to me, as it was so touching, genuine and sharp. Basically its an autobiography, kind of like a visual book full of anecdotes relating to his travels, he said he spent so much time flying across the world that its like a theatre in the sky” Bernard Bragg is considered a national treasure and has been called the “father of American deaf theatre.

As I write the Luke Barlow band and our technician for “…but beautiful” are somewhere over Greenland and are due to be joining us in a few hours. Now that Isolte and I have had a chance to do a recce of the city and get to know some of the people involved here, things are getting closer to the date of our show. We are going to be performing at the Treble Clef jazz club. Herman was telling me that Philly is actually the birthplace of jazz so I said that’s impossible its got to be New Orleans! It turns out there are a lot of jazz fans here and are familiar with Art Pepper and his music. Iam starting to feel the nerves as I crank up for the performance. However the night before our turn, I’am going to check out The Wild Zappers, a Deaf ASL ensemble who utilizing jazz, hip-hop and ASL poetry promises “to bring the entire audience to its proverbial feet”, and, we promise to bring you a review here on this blog.

I turned off Marshall street down Phillys equivalent of Camden Town, and there steppin’ out of the shadows a silent magician looking for all the world like a character from a Tom Waits song was deftly making a silver dollar appear and disappear and appear again and again, and in my minds ears ‘Swordfish Trombones’ began to play, Philly is certainly casting a spell on me. c'yall latrr. DAVE

Signdance Blog, Philadelphia 31/10/07

I'm spinning around and around, one minute the sun's in my eyes and the next I see the glint shining off the sax and the next a cool cat approaches, obviously a jazz fan. So I whip out a flyer do a space walk and hand it to him, I sign to him that he's gotta come and watch the show, I run over to the sax, touch and retract my hands, blowing on them, as if though I had been burnt. He takes off down Broad street laughing.

We are on the corner of Walnut St and Broad Street. All the band is here save one, we've got Mark Holub on the snare drum, Alex Ward on the clarinet and Luke Barlow playing the horn(sax). Isolte and I are in character as Art and Diane we are both playing with our audience as they pass us by or stop to watch. Joking and teasing people, imploring them to give 'CATS' a miss and see our event instead. People are really positive and boy! It feels great here outside, with such a loving audience, even the police officers are taking the flyers.

I turned round to Sarah from 'Creative Access and said surely some of these guys are gonna come, they seem so in to it. We shall see. Time passes and the slant of sun streaming between the skyscrapers like a clock hand, marks our steps and sequences. I felt I could do this for hours, we were lovin' it. When it came to pack up, I saw Harvey, Carol Finkle's husband crossing the intersection. He's been the photographer at Creative Access since its beginning. Harvey, a laconic Jewish guy is a bit of a dude, a beatnik, if you will, is putting us up at his place on Marshall street. I said to Isolte 'Hey that looks like someone we know', Isolte yells 'Harvey over here'. He swings over 'I was hoping to get some shots of you guys but I'am too late I think?'.

So we set up again, and he's clicking away and this time we drew a huge crowd and when we finished I felt something under my shoe, it was a silver dollar. I picked it up and said to the crowd 'Thank you Philadelphia! you've been great!'. Spinning the silver dollar up in the air, I wondered to myself if the silent magician from the day before had somehow conjured it here by magic. A shiver tingles up my spine 'well it is Halloween after all'. With that we take off for a well earned coffee. CNN was on the T.V. the slogan shouted 'Is it safe up there' refering to flying a plane, and I thought well with all these magicians around I dont think we'll have too much of a problem.

Thing is, is that there is however a bit of a polictical issue, relating to the hierarchy of disability. Although we are linked to the disability arts festival, the deaf artist are having to hustle to get attention. I witnessed an informal debate which went along these lines ' everywhere you go in the west there are ramps, but as soon as its a communication issue relating to the deaf, we are still living in a different era' or 'maybe we can visualise our intent by uniting under the two big D's, Disability and Deaf'. I still loved the street work though, maybe we will pull 'em in that way. Like I said before, we shall see.

Later back at Harvey and Carols, I asked him why is Philly considered to be the birthplace of Jazz

'Back in the forties and the fifties it was a huge craze, every one came here to play. We had Ella Fitzgerald, Coltrane, Billie Holliday, Miles Davies. Miles however was a bit of a jerk used to roam the town like a king and blase about performing. One day a great trombone player came in to play. The audiences went wild, Miles thought his thunder was going to be taken from him. He finally cut the jive and joined him on stage. Right across town all these joints were opening up and it was everybodys thing, it used to be that you could buy a drink for one dollar and stay all night listening to whoever was playing. Nowadays it cost a bomb to go and see a jazz concert and New York is where its at. The prices goin' up meant low attendance so all these joints went out of buisness. The Treble Clef however is unique and is one of the strongest venues in town, so what you guys are going to do is also unique, I mean a lot of people want jazz in the city its going to be nice to have a well known jazz band in the club'

In my dreams I remember Harveys story, and see a young woman with a silver dollar asking for a drink at the bar and watching 'The Lady' impart 'Strange Friut', and the silver dollar spinning into the till. Stay tuned ~

Signdance blog, Philadelphia 01/11/07

'Is it safe up there' I'am walking by the canalside and I see our boat in Amsterdam, it's sinking. Whoah! I see it rocking through the water to the bottom. I look up and see the moon rushing through the clouds and there a very strange bird beating its wings, and something about its movement implies that it is huge, it looks like a stingray and batlike. I open my eyes in suprise and see the overcast sky through the window, a plane cuts through the clouds and disappears behind another.'is it safe up there?' Time for a coffee I think. Outside on the balcony I'am reviving myself in the fresh air, cloudy but not cold. Fine for some more busking. Plus Sant, our bassist is comin' today I reckon he's on the tube in London now.

We are at the Treble Clef club warming up getting ready to go. The band is goofing around, they remind me of The Marx Brothers, Alex is talking to Luke and Luke is responding by 'talking' through the sax this gets me laughing so hard. Mark is playing the piano, he is sending up a ballad and I'am pretending to fall asleep on the low notes. Carol is there, documenting everything on camera. This humour is essential to us as we will be able to take that out on the streets. But not before Isolte and I deliver a spoof on a Marat/Sade song.

Some very strict and severe ladies leaving the symphony hall trooping in file were passing our performance. It became a thing, in the nicest possible way, to see if we could get them to take our flyers, we drew I think. By now the sun came out and Carol said that the powers that be must be smiling down on us as it was meant to rain, maybe it is safe up there afterall. Over the last two days we had handed out about a 1000 flyers. Someone has got to show. A group of disabled people stopped to watch and joined in, a real party on the side walk ensued.The flyers also advertise the internationally acclaimed Wild Zappers, a seven-strong ensemble of Deaf male dancers, it advertises Washington D.C's Helix Boyz for some rap Deaf style, plus Bawedeville from New York with a revolutionary approach to Burlesque and Vaudeville. I'am going to review all these shows for this blog, plus tomorrow I'm aiming to catch Johnny Crescendo for that interview I was telling you about.

After a few hours and with legs feeling like lead we moved camp to The Montana Grill across Broad street, Herman joined us (his name is spelt German L Parodi). He was rolling his eyes in ironic exasperation, 'The main mural for the festival' he said pausing to laugh' is painted in big letters spelling out 'INDEPENDENCE STARTS HERE', and it's up on the on the street side wall of Phillys hospital, what a place to start'. I am hoping others will get the irony and come anyway.


We all crack up in fits of laughter. Carol has a real serious side though, very committed to getting the work out there, calling the media, and engaging in some seriously well thought out pitches. Big day tomorrow then, from the city of Deaf and Disability love, goodnight.- David.

Signdance Blog Philadelphia 04/11/07

It finally happened, the last two days we did the shows, including our own, with our turn on stage over, and it all being nothing but a memory, I am now VERY tired. I signed that right, I think.Today I had a lie in and it felt so good. So now I'am going to give the full story on how it went.

Treble Clef Club 02/11/07

Part one: We got in to the club at 10am. We planned to do another busk, this time at Love park, near the City Hall. It was to be a very sombre busk that would say to people attending the park to hear the speakers campaigning against gun crime across the city, that its time to stop the mindless killings perpetrated everyday by senseless gang wars. We were going to show people that there is hope, our festival embodies the spirit of positivity, a part of the solution. A police officer saw our drum set, approached, 'If you guys perform' she said ' I'am gonna arrest you.' We could'nt argue with that, I mean we are fresh from the U.K. Carol's thinking was sound, the festival could help to heal some of the bad stuff going down in Philly. Its a shame the officer did not see it that way. I also noticed quite a few disabled people out there, were these people shot and disabled as a result. That surely makes our event all the more relevent.

We re-grouped at the Clef Club on Broad Street and began our get-in, in earnest. That night the line up was Antoine Hunter from Oakland, California, The Wild Zappers from Washington D.C and The Helix Boyz, also from Washington D.C. Plus two pieces by The Luke Barlow Band and ourselves.

We opened up the show, there were about a hundred in the audience. The music went down great, really set the tone with it being a jazz venue and all. We also did a Jazz dance improv along with the music.

The Helix Boyz signed a million miles an hour to a fast and highly verbal rap,. They described themselves as the worlds first deaf rap crew. Hailing from Washington D.C they bought some rousing mainstream style Ka-bam that had us waving H for Helix.

Also hailing from D.C were the internationally acclaimed Wild Zappers who had some of the audience swooning over their Boy-Band style soul. A bit of luuurve in the air tonight as they sign and dance a well executed cover of 'I believe I can Fly'. They did a whole comptilation of songs lasting for an hour. These guys can really move smoother than a good Bourbon.

Antoine Hunter (Deaf himself), performed an eleven minute solo dance called 'Fire-storm'. A really impressive piece that carries a strong soulful Jazz energy that burns right the way through. He did'nt stop for a moment, it was a relentless call for the freedom of the body. The work conjured up an image of a man in the desert at the end of a baking hot day and the sun has gone red. He metamorphosises, one minute he is the thermal wind shushing across the desert floor, next he is a loose tumble weed twisting and turning, and the next a man watching the things of the burning desert, in profound meditative reflection. The work is never literal and totally absorbing. He bought to mind a quote from a jazz musician: ' you're looking at a pioneer, you're looking at an explorer, you're looking at an experimenter, you're looking at a scientist, you're looking at all those things because it is the creative process incarnate'.(Albert Murray)

Hunter is quite simply one of the best Deaf pure dance artist that I have witnessed. He studied at the Californian Institute of the Arts (Cal-Arts), a reknowned arts university with an international reputation for innovation and quality.., and it's where Isolte, SDC's dance director trained! I'am amazed at this guys movement vocabulary, definately one to watch.

He will be joining Signdance Collective for a short U.K season during September 2008 .

Part two continues tomorrow. Meanwhile I'am going to catch up with Johnny Crescendo for that interview I was tellin' you about.

Signdance Blog Philadelphia 06/11/07

Hiya everybody, whoah! the last few days have been real hectic, so I'am feeling kinda bushwhacked right now. We started on some R&D(research and developement) for the next project we got comin' up called 'Three films'. Sarana Meerha joined us on the third to document the show at the Clef Club and also to kick start her involvement in Three Films. Sarana, a Disabled filmaker, born in India, grew up in Hawaii and London, and now resides in California. Having flown in jet-lagged on a flight that took longer than ours from the U.K, she hunkered down to film the performance.

Philadelphia Clef Club 03/11/07

Vicky Heathcock, Signdance Collective's technical director had been working since nine a.m that morning, having been delegated as the overall techy for these two days, called us in at twelve. Being a dance company, entails early get-in due to the importance of warming up and 'speccing' the space. With a theatre show, once the shows on the road you can afford to come in later but in dance its a diffferent ballgame. If a dancer does'nt tune their body right, then they will probably end up in hospital. Oh man, I was so nervous, big night tonight, it was our turn. We each went through own idiosyncratic way of prepping ourselves for the evening, I, for instance spent a lot of the day as a runner, pounding the side walks up and down Broad Street, gettin' a battery for this, tryin' to find a bulb for that, even tryin' to help out a few hells angels find their way to South Street, suddenly I felt like I was teching all of Philadelphia.

Last things last, a silver aluminium bowl, it was too small for me to put my foot in, which is what what I have to do at the end of the show. So I just did it in a way that all I had to do was to put my hand in instead. But secretly it was funny, bit like the scene in 'This is Spinal Tap' where the band gives measurements in inches instead of feet and end up with a tiny stonehenge in place of the piece de resistance, a huge cosmic version. Thats cool I think, and head off to the dressing rooms which we were sharing with Bawdeville from New York. All of us in our own Idiosyncratic way getting ready for our performances. Wow! there was so much glitter flying around it looked like a set out of 'Logan's Run'.

Bawdville' are a inclusive troupe from the Big Apple, that is re-inventing comedy burlesque. Veronika Sweet, Peekaboo Pointe, Jo Boobs et al combine to deliver a very wild and wonderful burlesque that would have anyone reaching for their collar with the sudden and inexplicable rise in temperature. There were no pretenders in this piece, it was genuine burlesque that gave poetic justice to the fine art of gentle seduction, Deaf style. The work was beautifully choreographed and very subtly presented, it was punctuated with comedy sketches, signed songs and a deeply unsexy but hilarious send-up of a burlesque routine involving all the wrong clothes.

"...but beautiful" ... Erm...ahh...well... we had a great time, no-body walked into a wall or fell off the stage, although I almost collided with the poor photographer!

Comin' up, a review on New Yorks Ann Marie Jade'Bryans movie 9/11 Fear in Silence: The forgotten underdogs and Harvey Finkles' retrospective on The Creative Access Years. Once again y'all from Philly a sweet and gentle goodnight.

Signdance Blog Philadelphia 07/11/07

A nice bright winter day greeted us as we finished our coffee quickly, to meet Johnny Crescendo downstairs at Marshall Street. We were taking off in his van to another workshop at another school in North Philly. We had already done two workshops at a school to the south of the city on the fifth. The whole idea was try and empower the teacher’s curriculum in Disability and Deaf awareness, he explained as we cut across town. Isolte was saying to Johnny that not only that can happen but also an education in visual communication for hearing children can enhance the child’s overall educational development. I thought that’s great more signers for me! After the workshops the previous day we headed to a great Jewish cafe called 42nd on south, I tried to conduct an interview with Johnny but it was impossible for me to follow the conversation, what with the delicious bagel and omlettes, and Johnny’s rapid fire responses, poor Isolte in the middle tryin’ to deal with telephone calls, interpreting when she shouldn’t have to, plus brunch. Forget it lets have the interview via Word on-line. That way we can communicate much more effectively. The workshops were great by the way not only did we teach A.S.L but also B.S.L, plus we taught signdance and all to compulsive music from Johnny. What a team!!!

Treble Clef Club Philadelphia 04/11/07

Wow1 what a gut-wrenching movie “ 9/11 Fear in Silence: The Forgotten Underdogs “ directed by a deaf filmmaker in from New York, called Anne Marie ’Jade’ Bryans. Jade asks a question that becomes the driving impetus for the entire film. What happened to the deaf people that were caught up in the 9/11 horror? It was a documentary that strived towards the investigative, in a hearing world, ask a question and the answers are silence.

“The whole place shook” says a deaf chef who was working on the third floor, “and suddenly everyone was running for the fire exit.” The film slows down as he recalls the events that morning through vivid sign and suddenly we are there with him in the tower.

The titles scream ‘underdog’ least important member of society. There were no alarms in place anywhere to alert the deaf to any emergency, nobody knows for sure how many deaf there were, but its confirmed as around 18, four died and the rest survived. Jade and the camera woman take-off on bicycles in to the no go area, and with her film union card she manages to gain entry in to the war-zone, and there a white dove lay dying on the side walk, at first it looks as though it may be resting, but then we see a splotch of blood on its feathers, a potent and visual symbol full of metaphorical meaning, of a horrific event. Very emotive and as Isolte pointed out, “It was the Deaf community’s chance to mourn an otherwise highly verbal healing process.” The film has won a lot of award’s, keep an eye out for this one.

This was followed by two short black and white movies, shot on an old cine camera. God knows where the camera was salvaged, but the quality of the photography was highly effective, as the films depicted, firstly, a piece about an abusive relationship, that is based loosely on the film-maker’s personal experiences. The film becomes increasingly surreal as the long-suffering woman’s face begins to transmorgify into a mask of suffering. The second was a film looking at the paradox of a deaf/hearing relationship and each in the relationship dealing with the others’ communication lives and becoming increasingly estranged, due to feelings of jealousy and resentment. The filmmaker, Dawn Schakett, is actually from Philadelphia and made these sensitive and telling shorts during her college training in Boston well over a decade ago.

Harvey Finkle has amassed a massive body of monochrome photographs of all those who’ve passed through Creative Access doors. This retrospective spanning at least three decades show us in mellow and stunningly clear focus the many emotions, stories, and ages of all of Phillys Deaf community and beyond. Not just Deaf but also related i.e mother father deaf, interpreters, parents of Deaf and so on. This sensitive eye captures a laconic image of a precocious baby signing “bike”, he is being taught by a woman, perhaps his mother or a teacher. The scene is taking place in a back yard with a view of a desert stretching far off in to the distance. The baby is stretching back into his bicycle seat wearing a pair of enormous spectacles. It’s a classic image that any aficciondo of deaf culture would proud to have on the wall of their home. Harvey has a huge career in photography and a visit to his site is well recommended.

At the end of this Blog, I will put up a list of all the people I have mentioned and acknowledge all the people who have made this happen. I know that some people will want to contact the characters I have mentioned so far so I will give you the e-mails for their sites. In the meantime so long!

Signdance Blog Philadelphia 08/11/07

We took off again with Johnny to our third school for some more workshops with the little ‘uns. This time, we headed to the east of Philly. We did two sessions. Later that afternoon we caught up with Sarana Mehra and Luke Barlow for more R&D on our new project ‘Three films plus One’. The ideas were streamin’ through like no tomorrow. It was to be our last session, and directly after Sarana caught the plane home to California. Now that all the band have gone, there is only Luke, Isolte and I left. Tomorrow there’s gonna to be a show called ‘The Zoo Story’ by The Deaf West Theatre, Plus a huge gig, Johnny Crescendo is gonna’ be playin’ too. More on that later, meanwhile here’s the interview I was telling you about.

David- Hiya man, it’s great to see ya, how’s life in Philly and what’s rockin’ your boat right now?

Johnny Crescendo- Life’s good, I’m enjoying late parenthood, looking after my daughter, Danielle and promoting inclusive practice in schools.

D- You just released an album ‘ROLLOVER’, can you cue me in to what your vision was for this album.

J- There's not an overall vision for the album it’s made up of songs from over 15 years. I guess I wanted this to be mine and my friend’s, Andy Morgan’s album, because we both contribute to the writing. Andy is a great engineer, and, all the tracks are produced by Andy, so it has a certain sound that I like.

D- Is there anything you are hankering for back in UK? What do ya miss about it?

J- Steak and kidney pies or cheese and onion, fish and chips and old friends that go back a ways.

D- What artist or individuals have played a major role at influencing your life?

J- Most artist I have worked with, like Ian Stanton or Claire Mooney or Barry and Lyne Hardman. No, you probably haven’t heard of them but there’s thousands of us out there just the same! To Quote Ian.

D- You got one track that is a re-working of a Johnny Cash song that he wrote 'specially for the San Quentin gig. Can you give us an idea of what’s goin' down song-wise for the benefit of those of us that can't hear the music?

J- The tune is to the Johnny Cash Song ‘San Quentin’, but played in a more bluesy style than Johnny Cash. The thing is, when people get out of prison, there is a process afterward. Disabled people need a process to get out of nursing homes, like Inglis House. Nursing homes present themselves as nice places, but people who have got out to tell the truth, about these hell-holes that should be consigned to the 18th century.

D- You have a reputation for really saying what you mean and sticking to your principles. Can you explain how you manage to do this when so many sell themselves down the river. Are there any mottos or instances that you hold, that enable you to aspire to a better world?

J- I think you said it. Say what you mean, stick to your principles and f*****’ find something to DO that advances society.

D- What about that film you showed me the other night, Cassie was in it. Can you tell me who made it, and describe a bit about what’s happening in the film?

J- The film is going on my-space soon. Its a film of me doing, ‘Choices and rights’ in 1992, and it’s a collage of the Adapt demonstrations in the US. It’s short and incredibly empowering, even though the sound is rough. I'm giving them away with every sale of my CD over Christmas.

D- You have a great rapport with Andy Morgan. You’ve been working together for nigh on twenty years. Can you tell us a bit about Andy, what he does and how you maintain that collaboration, now that there is all that sea between you both?

J- Well it’s difficult, but I come over (to the UK) spend a day in the studio and we gig together, go to festivals and jam. It means the process is longer, but that’s ok because neither of us wants to rush something. Andy is a very giving and sympathetic artist, and we work really well together. Lately he has brought more music to the table than I have. Andy also believes in me and that's why there is much more Johnny on this album than ‘Pride’, my previous album. I've become a better musician through knowing him.

D- What’s next Johnny, is there anything that’s forming on the sidelines, a new concept perhaps, and is America having an influence on that now that you know the UK, does this new place say something to you and your work?

J- Well I’m writing a sort of biography at the moment. I'm 50,000 words in, I hope to have that out sometime next year. I also have a collection of short children's stories ready and I'm looking for an illustrator to collaborate with. I'm still writing and playing and I am exploring how I can use the Internet better.

D- And finally I had to say it, 'Johnny, ain't yer gonna come on home' and if so can we catch any new gigs over in the UK?

J- I'm still available for Gigs in the UK and come over regularly, so contact me at and lets see what we can do. I really would like to tour my new album.

Thank you Johnny. It’s been great working with you this week and good luck with the education/ awareness work. I’m looking forward to the gig tomorrow. Even if I can’t hear the music I will still get the energy and see the people. Meantime good night or good day to everyone back home from Philly!

Signdance Blog Fayetteville, North Carolina. 11/11/07

The skyscrapers shrank down to the horizon, Philadelphia succumbed to the mist as we rolled out of town and headed south on the Amtrak. Its finally over and all that remains now is an epilogue. I have to catch the memories while its still fresh in my mind. The overall impression I have is one of deep respect for Carol Finkle and her tireless determination to create a cultural landscape that will leave a lasting impression in what is often an inaccessible terrain for people who, like myself are deaf or otherwise. Over the years I have met many such people, pioneering mediators between a hearing world and a signing world. People like Carol have opened doors upon doors, empowering and strengthening networks, giving visual shape and form to a wider and ideally increasingly inclusive dialogue between all people across Philadelphia, and in turn the world.

"The struggle for the access to the arts, is the struggle for the access to American culture itself.” (Carol Finkle)

We met up with German L. Parodi for the last time outside the Annenberg Centre for the Performing Arts. We were going to see The Deaf West Theatre's production of ‘The Zoo Story’ written by Edward Albee. I thought it would be interesting to see it, as Albee’s work is incredibly verbal or ‘oral’ as some Deaf may term it. It was in my education to always consider a concept or script in visual terms. The play was a four hander, and presented by two actors signing and two actors shadowing and voicing over. Its an old technique used many times in Deaf theatre and one that very rarely works for me. In my humble opinion there’s no excuse to use this kind of convention, it stifles not only the Deaf performers expression, it also renders the hearing performers in an equal constraint. The only time it seems to work is when it becomes part of the overall complicity and inherently built from the inner process of script development. Although they made an excellent job of a limiting framework, the whole production suffocated in its attempt to do the script some justice right down to the last crossed T and full-stop. Deaf audiences were left struggling for breath as they tried to take onboard the overload of conceptual information imparted to us in rapid fire. I think the hearing audiences had it easier as they were able to refer the voice-over, but this isn’t radio, it’s theatre and we need to breathe in visual imagery. Comedian Jim Carrey had it down pat when he said “Talking is not communicating.”

I want to see these guys again, in another production, this time trusting and taking on board a much more visual performance language. Hey! come on guys, I know you can do this: re-interpret the text and get over the semantics.

When we met Herman, his disability meant we had to take the accessible entrance to the theatre. The doors creaked open and the dust flew revealing an access policy worthy of an archaeological dig. cool in an Indiana Jones kinda’ way but a complete hassle for us, as I tried to explain to the lady taking us on a wild goose chase through the bowels of this whitewashed-able-bodied saturated citadel of a theatre. I said to her it’s the performance that you didn’t advertise as she tried to figure exactly where the show was. Poor show then but as Carol Finkle might say enlightenment has to start somewhere even if it is a bit late in the day.

Also I have a bit of a confession to make. Remember at the beginning of the blog I mention, that we were here at what’s been touted as the biggest disability arts festival in the world. Well it never happened. The people that Liberty were liaising with, ran ahead of Liberty’s intentions and ended up promoting the festival, as some kind of weird ‘lets help the poor disabled people event‘. Liberty having far too much integrity in the positive sense of the word, politely and being cool said thanks but no thanks. Remember that mural I was telling you about , well that had something to do with it. Of course the ‘PAH festival’ was in no position to pull out as all the flights, venues and artists were finalized. Far too much riding on the event with an impossible remit to communicate cancellation at such short notice we had to proceed.

Before the performance at Annenberg, we went to an opening of Harvey Finkles' Jobs project, an exhibition of photographs. The photos shot in monochrome were a series of images depicting people on re-entry to society after prison initiatives, set up by the government in Philadelphia. Each image is accompanied by an interview with the pictured. Each one a story of life in prison and why its hard to get accepted back into society after the fact and what they are having to do in order to achieve it. What I learned from the stories confirmed what I could see out the window of the car as we cut across Chinatown towards North Philadelphia. It’s a common story that spans the globe, a story of drugs, prostitution, and peer pressure that demands you to have attitude in order to survive and therefore to fight in the gang wars, often against the wishes of the released who endured term in prison even though they seem to be the victim. Whole childhoods spent indoors at home because the streets are too dangerous. Harvey’s statement is to put a face on injustice through photography, he is a photo-journalist with an artist’s eye. Check his web-site for more.

With all said and done. This blog would not be complete with out a huge thank you to all the people who worked tirelessly to make SDC’s presence at the festival happen. That includes thanks to the Luke Barlow Band and technical director Vicky Heathcock, film-maker Sarana Mehra, Donald Gardner and Walter Person of The Treble Clef Club, German L Parodi for his friendship and hospitality, Johnny and family also for their friendship, hospitality and the great interview, Liberty Resources and all at Creative Access, Robert De Mayo for his humour and generosity, Harvey Finkle, Arts council of England, and last but certainly not the least, a massive thank-you!! to Carol Finkle for having us at her PAH festival and sharing her incredible legacy with all of us.