An ear for drama

Terry Galloway’s mold-breaking solo rave “Out All Night and Lost My Shoes” has been hailed by one critic as a “comic, poignant narrative.” Another writer was riveted by a section he termed a “ventriloquist’s act of frenetic lunacy.”

The performance artist herself was once described (by London’s Time Out magazine) as “a likeable version of Ruby Wax mingled with a splash of Victoria Wood and dosed to the eyeballs with pro-plus tablets.”

But Austin Chronicle reporter Robert Faires saw a refashioned saint:

“I have wondered sometimes about Joan of Arc and what sustains such a fire as she had in the face of so many trials, whether I might ever see her in this age of inconstant faith … and there she was,” begins his awestruck review.

Clearly, this show means many things to many people — including Galloway herself:

“It’s a carefully nuanced script, but I sometimes change it in midstream,” she revealed in a recent e-mail interview. “I toss things things in and out, depending on if I’ve lost my taste for them, if they’ve lost their meaning, if something new seems more alive, more to the point, funnier or just more articulate. So the language itself will shift — my terror of accidental annhilation, for instance (which seemed kind of funny when the [Berlin] Wall went down and the Cold War turned lukewarm) has expanded itself. The kaboom doesn’t have to be one we make ourselves. It can be the same kind of kaboom that flattened the giant lizards a long, long time ago. So, some of the things I view with alarm change — but not the actual fact of viewing [things] with alarm, which incidentally is a dirty, rotten, nasty, filthy, stinking job. But somebody’s gotta do it.”

The wickedly comic, heavily autobiographical show draws on Galloway’s childhood and current experiences as a gay, deaf woman. Born in Berlin to Texan parents, the artist became disabled due to experimental drugs her mother was given while pregnant. By age 12, Galloway had lost much of her sight and all of her hearing.

“When I was a kid, I had a horror of being ridiculed, disliked, mocked, diminished,” she remembers. “I feared the world, because it seemed to have the power to do all those things to me — to look at me, to fix me with its eye and negate me. An audience can choose to do those things to any performer. But the great joy of performance is when the other choice is made — to look and imagine the best. I try to look the audience right in the eye. And I try to imagine them and myself as our ideals — you know, we’re all witty and tres intelligent and funny as hell. And we just can’t go wrong, because we’re all in that small space together, and we’ve come there looking for the same thing. To kind of fall in love — at least for that one short hour [that] we have together.”

With an increasing number of deaf people in high-limelight positions (last year’s Miss America, for instance, is deaf), that kind of rapport may be a trifle easier to establish today. Though Galloway is reluctant to attribute the shift to any collective miracle of newfound open-mindedness, she does allow that “things have changed. And it’s because of the usual [reason] — a lot of people that neither you nor I will ever know of were struggling for years and years with the reality of discrimination against the disabled, the deaf, the infirm. And it is all part of the larger struggle in life to fight the forces that would diminish our right to live good lives, from beginning to end. Those forces are dis-ablist, homophobic, racist, sexist, age-ist — you name it. But they are primarily unimaginative.”

Galloway frequently leads writing workshops, preferably with groups cobbled from every conceivable background.

“For art, you need everyone. The kick is to hear, experience and get to know something you haven’t heard, experienced or known before … although it’s surprising how very similar people from highly different backgrounds can be.” That truth resounds memorably in Galloway’s fond memory of a standout University of Texas performance:

“It was a great audience, cram-packed and wildly diverse,” she recalls. “It wasn’t just the expected student, faculty and administration [group], but also a lot of other people from around Austin who knew my work from years ago. So it was black, white, Hispanic, queer, straight, bi and trans[gendered], etc. etc etc. There were high-school kids, some of whom were from a school for the blind. And there was also a woman who had been brain-damaged by a stroke, but she had liked my work before the stroke and her attendant thought she might still like it. So we’re all there in this one room together, and it became this kind of hilarious night.

“‘Out All Night’ has some references to my disability, the fact that I spent part of my childhood hallucinating like crazy before they diagnosed my deafness and extreme nearsightedness: I do a bit about my stint at the Lion’s Camp for Crippled Children … [and] the blind kids thought that the bit about Lion’s Camp was hilarious, because they’d been there, done that. And they thought it even funnier when I made disparaging comments about the little snotty blind girl at the camp and how the rest of us hated the blind, because they always got all the foundation money.

“But the most wonderful and unexpected response was from the woman who was brain-damaged. She was kind of doing a soft, muttering call-and-response during the whole show. No one was in the least bothered by it — and doesn’t that tell you something about the quality of this audience? And, of course, I couldn’t hear it. But there is a point in the show in which I say, ‘I wanna die in the arms of love. Kiss me. Quick.’ And I stand there and wait. And, of course, no one ever makes a move to do it, and I usually make a wry comment about that and very, very quickly move on. But during this show, when I said that, that woman struggled up in her wheelchair and said: ‘Let me up there. I have to get up there.’

“I heard [about] this later, from other audience members. And her attendant was apparently a little embarrassed — because, you know, this was supposed to be ‘Theater,’ and the audience [is] just supposed to sit there like nice little sheep. … It kills me to this day that I couldn’t hear her. That I couldn’t respond to her response. I don’t know how to overcome that obstacle. Or the other — how to reach across that great divide that separates us as people and as audience/performer. I’m not that great of an artist. But I try.”

A bigger voice

Supporting Terry Galloway will be local dancer/performance artist Shiner Antiorio, whose multimedia show “Visual Voices” speaks to deaf and hearing audiences alike with its emotionally absorbing, insistently perfected interweaving of dance, storytelling and American Sign Language.

Performing for the first time in a large venue, Antiorio will showcase a Ray Charles song and a short story by Arnold Lobel, among other pieces.

“What I do is hard to conjure unless you’ve seen it,” she says. A recorded voice-over narrates a story as she signs it, ensuring that everybody gets it, and songs are portrayed via careful choreography: “A lot of deaf people don’t have access to music, but by watching me perform, they get a greater sense of the song through my movement. Because of the emotional depth I bring to the piece, they [still] experience the song, but in a different way.”

Though it’s unlikely that those unversed in signing will learn that skill simply by watching one performance, Antiorio hopes that everyone in attendance comes away with a sense of the language’s complex aesthetic.

“Sometimes, hearing people labor under the impression that sign language is unable to [illustrate] abstract concepts. But it’s not in the slightest bit limited. … The range of emotion in sign language is incredible, because it relies more on facial expressions than vocal inflections,” she explains.


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