Talk to the hands

As the Turtle Creek Chorale’s sign language interpreter, Don Jones has spent decades artfully crafting song lyrics for the hearing-impaired


Don Jones, performing last fall at the Turtle Creek Chorale’s Heartland concert. Jones has served as ASL interpreter for the chorale since 1989. Photography by Michael McGary

By Elaine Liner

Even when he’s chatting over a nosh at La Madeleine, Don Jones lets his hands do most of the talking. His fingertips dance across the tabletop to make a point, then his palms gently meet as punctuation. When his left hand topples a coffee cup — as it did during a recent interview in Oak Lawn — Jones laughs. Big gestures often lead to little spills.

Fans of the Turtle Creek Chorale will recognize Jones — the silver-haired gent in the tux, standing on the skirt of the stage — as the American Sign Language interpreter for all the group’s concerts since 1989. Jones has also signed for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas for 40 years, is currently signing mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in East Dallas and is now in his sixth year with the Dallas Independent School District as an “inclusion teacher,” traveling school to school to check on classroom accommodations for hearing impaired and dyslexic students.

It’s the concerts with the TCC, however, that allow Jones to use his signing skills with an artistic flair. Signing musical performances isn’t done word-for-word, he explains. “It really is an interpretation of the words, the music and the message. I use ‘poetic motion,’ you can call it, to put across the meaning and the emotion.” That includes not just ASL signs and some finger-spelling, but body language and facial expressions.

Jones recalls his first appearance with the chorale as one of his toughest assignments. He’d been hired mid-season when Dr. Tim Seelig, then in his second year as TCC’s artistic director, saw him sign the Lord’s Prayer at a spiritual conference and asked him to sign for the chorale’s next concert: Verdi’s Requiem, which required a signer to interpret three different texts being sung simultaneously. In Latin.

“I studied it beforehand, of course, but I highlighted the sections in different colors to get everything in,” says Jones. “When you’re signing with a choir, you can’t have that time delay that you normally have in interpreting speech. In music, you need to be right on the words. You have to know the words.”

Pre-performance homework for Jones can mean learning the libretti of operas sung in German, French or Italian. Jones spends hours rehearsing signing lyrics, from hymns to Broadway show tunes to the rapid-fire words of rap songs, as done recently by soloists at the Dallas Sings/Dallas Strong concert on July 14. That event saw the TCC joining with the Credo Choir and other singers in a gesture of community healing after the killings of five police officers.

“Rap lyrics are not a problem,” Jones says. “I looked them up and printed them out. Then in that performance, they changed the words. I’m standing right next to the singer and know I’m on camera. I’m live interpreting a rap that I have never heard before. But with rap, you have to listen for what it means and not listen just for the words. The words won’t make sense. You want to interpret the feeling in the words. Rhyming is not germain.”

Jones, now 65, was drawn to sign language as a teenager. His younger brother is hearing impaired and Jones learned to finger spell to help him with vocabulary words. A summer job as an assistant to a deaf/blind college student led to more studies in the art of sign interpretation. After graduating from University of Oklahoma, Jones worked as a teacher and interpreter in New Orleans before coming to SMU in the mid-1970s to earn a graduate degree in “deaf ed.”

Having outlived two partners, Jones now is single and says he thinks of the TCC as his community and extended family. “If I weren’t the ALS interpreter for the chorale, I would sing in it,” he says. “The music is beautiful, of course, but the message of the Turtle Creek Chorale is what keeps me there… their basic philosophy of inclusion — of different races, sexual preferences, identity, physical abilities. Providing a means for persons with hearing impairment to be included is a natural part of this philosophy.”

He says he also experiences something the audiences at TCC’s concerts can’t see. “I am in the unique position of looking out at the crowd and feeling their reaction, looking into their eyes and seeing their faces,” says Jones. “It can be emotionally overwhelming.”

The chorale, now led by artistic director Sean Baugh, adds singers through open auditions once a year (coming up on Sept. 3, at the Sammons Arts Center). The first major concert this season — the seasonal A Not So Silent Night from Dec. 8–11 — is at City Performance Hall, a venue whose onstage acoustics are tricky for clearly hearing speakers and singers, Jones says.

Is there any piece of music too difficult to interpret in American Sign Language? Wagner’s Ring Cycle would be all but impossible, he says. And what about the physical toll felt from 40 years of signing?

“I’m getting arthritis in my thumbs,” he says, “but using my hands so much is good physical therapy for it. I don’t think arthritis will interfere with signing.”

He fans his fingers over the table. Are those manicured nails? “I do get a manicure,” says Jones, his blue-gray eyes twinkling at the question. “I’m very proud of my hands.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

Anthem for toilets

Former ‘Letterman’ writer Steve Young celebrates the weird, campy underground art of industrial musicals


Humorist Steve Young explores the crazy world of forgotten musicals, written for trade shows and other avenues of corporate America, in his touring comedy show.

Lavish, costly, performed only once, industrial musicals were like Broadway shows written for boardrooms. Often starring top talent and written by folks (like the gay composing team Kander and Ebb) who’d later have Broadway hits, they sang of toilets and tractors, dog food and Dodge trucks.

Longtime Late Show with David Letterman and Maya & Marty comedy writer Steve Young has become an expert on and champion of vintage “industrials.” He’s collected more than 200 shows on LP, co-written a book (Everything’s Coming Up Profits, with fellow enthusiast Sport Murphy) and now is on a cross-country show-and-tell tour of stories, plus film and audio clips, titled The Lost World of Industrial Musicals, coming to the Texas Theatre Thursday.

It was in dusty bins of LPs at used record stores and then in listings on eBay that Young came across discarded gems issued as souvenir albums for sales meetings and trade shows. Ford-i-fy Your Future was a 1959 Ford tractor musical written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, years before they hit big with Fiddler on the Roof. Go Fly a Kite, a recording of a 1966 GE employee extravaganza, was by John Kander and Fred Ebb, later famous for Cabaret and Chicago. (You can hear some of the tunes online at

Broadway performers loved doing industrials, says Young, because they paid better than union minimum. Bob Fosse, Chita Rivera, Florence Henderson, Hal Linden, Sarah Jessica Parker and queer Texas legend Tommy Tune all did them, as did Adam Lambert in his pre-American Idol days. Linden has said income from gigs like Diesel Dazzle, done by GM in 1966, kept him from having to drive a cab or wait tables.

Before arriving in Dallas, Young took a break to preview what to expect in his appearance here and just how gay those old industrials were allowed to be.

— Elaine Liner

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Dallas Voice: Many of the performers in them were gay, but how campy could these industrial musicals be in the gray flannel Mad Men era?  Steve Young: The corporations were generally very conservative socially, though occasionally you see them being a bit progressive in casting people of color in the mid ’60s, or trying to portray women as more than wives or scantily-clad dancers. I don’t recall any gay overtones in any show… however, a performer once told me about a car company dress rehearsal in the ’60s attended by all the top company brass. During a demonstration of a truck’s lift gate, one cast member accidentally pinched another’s finger. The man was obviously in great pain, and the other guy, not knowing what else to do, kissed him. There was a sudden silence. Everyone thought, oh, now there’s going to be trouble with the executives. But it was never mentioned. I guess “show people” got a certain amount of leeway.

Mary Kay’s annual convention in Dallas still employs scads of performers for entertaining its sales force. Are any of those shows in your collection? I have a record album that was part of a 1972 Mary Kay training kit, which has a batch of popular songs rewritten to be about selling Mary Kay. “Gentle On My Mind,” “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” “When the Saints Go Marching In”… apparently Mary Kay folks were encouraged to sing along. There’s definitely a proud history of the direct sales companies like Mary Kay and Tupperware having fun conventions.


Steve Young

Do you have a favorite industrial show? It’s a tie between Diesel Dazzle, the Detroit Diesel Engine show from 1966, and The Bathrooms Are Coming!, the American-Standard 1969 show about plumbing fixtures. Both have truly impressive, catchy music that juxtaposes wonderfully with the wildly improbable subject matter. The Bathrooms Are Coming!, or TBAC as insiders call it, had songs by the late Sid Siegel, who I got to meet and interview before he passed away last year at 88. Diesel Dazzle was by the great team of Hank Beebe and Bill Heyer. Beebe is 90 and I’ve gotten to know him quite well. There’s no film of Diesel Dazzle that I know of, but I will screen a film of another Beebe/Heyer project, the extremely entertaining 1973 General Electric silicones film. And I am thrilled to say that I will be screening The Bathrooms Are Coming! Quite often the material was very creative, even surreal. Many of the film clips I’ll be showing in Dallas are out-of-this-world strange, intentionally or not.

Your old boss, David Letterman, is executive producing a documentary based on your book. Was that your idea?
The film, which is in production, wasn’t my idea. Some talented filmmakers got interested after the book came out. In my show I’ll have a four-minute sample of the documentary. I’m delighted to mention it’s one of four documentaries selected by Sundance Producing Lab to mentor over the coming year.

Do you miss having a nightly show to write for with a target like Donald Trump to skewer? I have to admit, I was relieved that I didn’t need to think about Trump jokes during the past year. I don’t naturally gravitate toward political humor. I don’t know whether the best possible Trump jokes and bits from Dave would have made any difference in how things have played out. Almost all political humor seems to be preaching to the choir. I do miss being part of a nightly show, though, where a silly idea at 9 a.m. could be a fully-produced bit making an audience laugh later the same day

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

REVIEW: ‘Finishing School’ at the Bath House

Elaine Liner author Sweater Curse photo by Daylon Walton 700dpi

Elaine Liner, by Daylon Walton

Some props to my friend, Elaine Liner. Elaine made her acting debut (at least since college!) last year in her one-woman show Sweater Curse (one of my favorite productions of 2013), and barely two months later, she’s represented on the boards again — not as an actor, but as a playwright. (She also penned Sweater.)

Finishing School, which finishes up at the Bath House Cultural Center Saturday, had a troubled launch. She wrote it with the wonderful Larry Randolph in mind, but he fell ill on opening eve, and the producer, One-Thirty Productions (which produces only matinees that begin, natch, at 1:30 p.m.), decided to forge ahead with a replacement in Larry’s role (Gordon Fox). I was finally able to catch it this week, with only two performances to go (today and tomorrow), but I’m glad I took the time. Even if I didn’t like Elaine already, I’d like this play: It’s smart, observant (about the hazards of growing old, and how entering one’s twilight years doesn’t mean abandoning love) and rat-a-tat hilarious, with zingers that a punnier critic might call one-Liners. Ahem. Who’m I kidding, I am a punny critic.

Fox is actually doing fine in the role of a 94-year-old who befriends a younger resident of a retirement home (John S. Davies), who’s not sure what life hold. Catherine DuBord and Ellen Locy provide some vibrancy in smaller roles, and even B.J. Cleveland manages a cameo (unseen) as the home’s activities director on the public address center. Seems like watching plays professionally has given Liner insight on how to write them, too.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Theater Critics Forum bestows honors

The DFW Theater Critics Forum met last week over friend chicken and sweet tea to bestow its annual awards for local theater excellence, as as usual, the gay community was well-represented.

Of the eight best director winners, five locals were gay: Regan Adair for Red Light Winter, Rene Moreno for three shows (The Trip to Bountiful, No Child… and Creditors), Michael Serrecchia for two shows (Uptown Players’ Next to Normal and ICT MainStage’s How to Succeed…), Joel Ferrell for two shows at DTC (Cabaret and Dividing the Estate), and Len Pfluger for My Fair Lady at Lyric Stage. Pfluger’s partner, Jay Dias, was also singled out for his season of music direction with Lyric.

Larry Randolph, as a tragic drag queen in One-Thirdy Productions’ FIT entry, The Madness of Lady Bright, was a popular choose for acting, as were two New York actors who sizzled at the Wyly (and whom we interviewed): Wade McCollum as the M.C. in Cabaret, pictured, and Sydney James Harcourt as the Tin Man in The Wiz. Whitney Hennen, the ditzy blonde in Uptown’s Victor/Victoria, was also singled out.

Justin Locklear received the second Emerging Artist Award for his acting and costume work this season with Balanced Almond, which actually won him two other individual awards.

In addition to yours truly, participating critics in Martha Heimberg (Turtle Creek News); Elaine Liner (Dallas Observer); Mark Lowry (TheaterJones and Fort Worth Star-Telegram); M. Lance Lusk (D Magazine); David Novinski (TheaterJones); Punch Shaw (Fort Worth Star-Telegram); Perry Stewart (TheaterJones); Lawson Taitte (Dallas Morning News); and Lindsey Wilson (D Magazine).

Full list below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

B.J. Cleveland: Tragedy to triumph in 24 hours

If you ever wondered whether the theatrical cliche “the show must go on!” was anything more than that — a cliche — you’d know for sure it isn’t if you were at the Kalita Humphreys on Sunday. Our friends at TheaterJones post this amazing story about B.J. Cleveland stepping in for an injured actor in Uptown Players’ production of Victor/Victoria (which I reviewed in this week’s edition). You can also read about it from Elaine Liner at the Dallas Observer blog. Facebook was flooded with comments and admiration for Cleveland, one of North Texas’ most notable and popular entertainers for more than 20 years.

I texted B.J. Sunday night to offer my condolences and congratulate him on his triumph just a few hours after his curtain call. He was in the middle of writing his father’s obituary.

That’s one dedicated theater queen, I’ll tell ya.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Observer honors TCC, Uptown Players, Station 4, Gary Fitzsimmons, Kevin Moriarty

This week’s Observer goes jumbo size with its annual Best of Dallas issue. These are the best issues because it’ll give the obvious kudos to best club, restaurant, actor, etc., but then also goes out of the box for awards like “Best Shiny Happy People” (The Dallas Family Band) and “Best Two-Fisted Drinking” (The Dirty Dusty at City Tavern (Ed. note: agreed!)). We were happily surprised to see the space they gave to some LGBT faves.

Right at the front of the first section in Culture, we see the award for Glee Club given to the Turtle Creek Chorale with a feature written by Elaine Liner. She continues her gay ways with a second feature, “Homecoming Queens” about Israel Luna’s travails as a controversial indie filmmaker. If you caught the live video stream of his radio show today on Rational Broadcasting, he flashed the page for the camera.

Other LGBT awards went to Kevin Moriarty, Dallas Theater Center (best theater director), “Broadway Our Way” by Uptown Players (best theater fundraiser), Gay List Daily (best blast of gay), District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons (best bureaucrat)and Station 4 (best dance club).

There are some others, but you’ll have to snag your own copy to read further on. But don’t try the boxes down here on Fitzhugh. They are cleaned out.

Congrats to all the winners.

—  Rich Lopez

New druggies picked for ‘Celeb Rehab’

Someone needs to create a series called Non-Celebrity Obsessive Rehab with Dr. Drew so my friend Elaine Liner can be on it — she hearts the silver fox shrink. A lot. Instead, she’ll have to make do watching the latest installment of the Celebrity Rehab series. VH1 announced today those who will be appearing on this fourth cycle, which includes Jeremy London (he who claims to have been kidnapped and forced drugs), Janice Dickinson (the crazy, bisexual, self-descibed “first supermodel” — she apparently never heard of Suzy Parker — or, for that matter, Cheryl Tiegs or Twiggy), and former teen idol Leif Garrett. Can’t wait to see those train wrecks.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

'Corpus Christi' to be performed in Fort Worth

John Otte

John Otte

The controversial class production of the Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi” will be performed in Fort Worth.

John Jordan Otte, the student who chose the play as a project for his advanced directing class, said that a date has not been set but he wants to finish the semester first. He said the date will probably be sometime in late May.

He is working with Elaine Liner and Mark Lowry of Theater Jones to bring the production to the Metroplex and the production will be held at the Rose Marine Theater west of downtown. The Fort Worth theater is more than 2 1/2 times larger than the space it would have been presented in at Tarleton State University.продвижение сайтареклама недвижимости в интернет

—  David Taffet