Expanding the language of performance

Art Holm No. 5 features ASL theatre artists

Joanna Hawkins (left) and Jordan Sangalang are two of the five artists featured in annual performance series Art Holm.

For the first time ever, the annual Winnipeg-based performance series Art Holm is hosting acts in both spoken English and American Sign Language (ASL). The show ran in person from Nov. 19 to 21 and streams online from Nov. 21 to 28. Art Holm No. 5 features stage artists from a variety of backgrounds and practices.

Alex Elliott, the co-founder and director of Art Holm, sees incorporating ASL performances and interpretation in the series as fitting snugly in their mandate, which is, “to close gaps and foster stronger relationships within the performing arts.”

Elliott co-founded Art Holm with her dance partner Hilary Anne Crist back in 2017. They wanted to create a space that allowed for artistic expression and collaboration.

“It’s this idea of having three different artist groups or artists share an evening,” Elliott says. “They each get their own pocket of performance.”

Jordan Sangalang is one of five artists featured in the performance series, along with Joanna Hawkins, Rob Crooks, Gwen Trutnau and Tanja Faylene Woloshen. Sangalang’s theatrical journey began at a high school in Florida and hasn’t stopped since. To date, he’s facilitated a myriad of ASL performances, including poems for World Poetry Day.

Sangalang and Hawkins’ joint performance combines elements of mime, signing and movement to portray a wide range of emotions and thematic elements to the audience.

“(We) want the audience to feel inspired and get this very visual connection with our performance,” Sangalang says.

Elliott first crossed paths with Hawkins and Sangalang at an ASL performance of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, featuring 100 Decibels, a deaf mime troupe that Sangalang and Hawkins are members of.

“I was so blown away by their performance that ... I was really curious if they were open to the challenge of creating something themselves,” Elliott says.

Art Holm No. 5 was birthed out of that interaction, with Sangalang and Hawkins equally interested in collaborating.

As more conversations are had around accessibility in the arts, ASL interpretation at artistic and cultural events in Winnipeg has become more prevalent, yet still largely uncommon. Organizations like the Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba have been working toward expanding the scope of theatrical language through workshop facilitation and resource lists.

For other artistic directors interested in expanding performances to include ASL artists and audience interpretation, Elliott shares a few helpful tips derived from attending accessibility workshops and working with Sangalang.

“Having ASL interpreters is great, (and) it’s necessary, but having someone like an ASL coach or an ASL consultant is really essential to make sure that the artistic integrity is there,” Elliott says.

Sangalang adds that interpreting agencies can also lend a helping hand to production companies working with ASL artists and interpreters. In this way, ASL theatre artists can focus entirely on their performance and connection to the audience.

“We really appreciate the interpreters being there for clear communication for everybody and having that access, as well, so we can all partner together,” Sangalang says.

Tickets to view Art Holm’s digital performance are available on a sliding scale from $1 to $30. Though live performances are over, the show will be available for viewing virtually from Nov. 21 to 28. Visit artholm.ca for more info.

Published in Volume 76, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 25, 2021)

Related Reads