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Lisa Thorson Presents JazzArtSigns in Boston March 9

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SEE, HEAR, FEEL THE MUSIC: JAZZARTSIGNS, THE CUTTING-EDGE ARTS AND MUSIC EVENT OF THE UPCOMING YEAR PRESENTED IN BOSTON MARCH 9, 2006 BY VSA ARTS OF MASSACHUSETTS AND WHEELOCK FAMILY THEATRE

Acclaimed Vocalist Lisa Thorson Improvises with Her Band, American Sign Language Interpreters, and a Painter, Along With Live Audio Describer and Text Captioner

Making Live Jazz Accessible To All People With and Without Disabilities

VSA arts of Massachusetts and Wheelock Family Theatre, both celebrating their 25th anniversary seasons, are pleased to present JazzArtSigns, Lisa Thorson's groundbreaking multimedia, multisensory and interactive improvised jazz performance piece for all audiences. The event takes place on Thursday, March 9, 2006 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wheelock Family Theatre, 200 The Riverway, Boston. Tickets $20; $10 students. Voice: 617-879-2300 * TTY: 617-879-2150. Email: [email protected]

JazzArtSigns performers include Lisa Thorson, vocals; Cercie Miller, saxophones; Tim Ray, piano; David Clark, bass; George Schuller, drums; Nancy Ostrovsky, improvisational painter; Jody Steiner and Misha Derrisaint, ASL interpreters; Vince Lombardi, audio describer; and Don DePew of The Caption Coalition.

Created in 1999 by veteran jazz vocalist, composer and Berklee College of Music Associate Professor Lisa Thorson, JazzArtSigns provides a universally accessible, cross-disciplinary concert experience that redefines the way audiences interact with live performances. JazzArtSigns features a group of world-class jazz musicians, an improvisational painter, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, a live audio describer and text captioner, as well as program information in Braille, large print and on tape. This interactive fusion of improvisation, music, visual art, and language encourages all audiences to participate in the spirit of acceptance, innovation and cooperation.

“Access to the arts and culture is still a rarity for many people with disabilities," says VSA arts of Massachusetts' director Charlie Washburn. “Rarest of all are integrated events that make the artistic product available and accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. JazzArtSigns is a groundbreaking event because it provides people with and without disabilities the opportunity to interact with art and music from a variety of perspectives so that they literally see, hear and feel music as it is being performed."

JazzArtSigns creator Thorson, a wheelchair user, comments on her artistic vision. “Through JazzArtSigns I hope to inspire new mainstream artistic projects that will take a holistic view of access to the arts -- one where access is an element in the creative process rather than an add-on that restricts creativity. With JazzArtSigns, the ASL interpreter and painter trade fours with the band and everyone improvises. This is what makes this event so unique."

JazzArtSigns has been performed twice: in 1999 in Cambridge MA and in 2003 in Portsmouth, NH. Audiences responded with great enthusiasm. As Janet K. Marcous from Northeastern University's American Sign Language Department says: “JazzArtSigns was the most extraordinary experience I've ever had with jazz. It left me feeling incredibly happy and with a sense of freedom that I don't often feel because I am deafblind... it captured every aspect of sound, sense, visionary collections, musical lyrics, movement, color, details, contrast and on and on." And musician Luciana Souza says: “I felt privileged to have been an audience member at JazzArtSigns - all my senses were stimulated as I felt a communal experience take place."

In addition to the performance, VSA arts of Massachusetts is sponsoring workshops for students and presenters in jazz and painting improvisation, universal design in the arts and audience development. The purpose of these residency activities is to encourage community building of participants and presenters alike and give everyone a look at the future of cultural access.

JazzArtSigns was developed in collaboration with VSA Arts of Massachusetts' National Cultural Arts Initiative with support from the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). JazzArtSigns is also supported by the Berklee College of Music's Faculty Fellowship Program.

The creator and lead artist of JazzArtSigns, Lisa Thorson is an acclaimed Boston-based jazz vocalist, composer and educator. She has toured the U.S., Canada and Italy as a concert artist and jazz clinician, and has produced five recordings as a leader. Her 2002 release Out to Sea which the Boston Herald praised as “a stunning duet date", features pianist Cho Yoon Seung. Thorson's 1999 release Resonance was produced by Gunther Schuller for GM Recordings and has received unanimous critical acclaim. Michael Nastos (All Music Guide) hailed the CD as “one of the very best musical offerings of the year and an astonishing vocal document of the 90's." She has also performed or recorded with jazz greats Sheila Jordan, Harvie Swartz, Herb Pomeroy, Jerry Bergonzi, Bruce Barth, Steve Grossman, Valerie Capers, Linda Hopkins, the Billy Taylor Trio and Kenny Wheeler.

An Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music and a performer for over 25 years, Thorson creates works in theatre and music that bring people together to effect social change. Thorson has been nominated Outstanding Jazz Vocalist in the Boston Music Awards, received the Humanitarian Entertainer of the Year Award in 1989 from the Boston Encore Awards for Excellence in Cabaret and was nominated by actress Jane Alexander and received a Living Legacy Award in 1992 from the Women's International Foundation in San Diego, CA. In 1996 she received an award from the Massachusetts Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities. She is the subject of two award winning documentaries: Key Changes: A Portrait of Lisa Thorson, produced by filmmaker Cindy Marshall and Lisa and Friends, by producer Virginia Bartlett. Lisa has been a leader in the advocacy for full access to the arts for people of all abilities since 1980. She co-founded Next Move Unlimited, one of the first professional theater companies to bring performers with and issues of disability to the stage. She worked for over 15 years as an arts accessibility consultant with the National Endowment for the Arts and numerous non-profit, corporate and public organizations, including five years on the Board of the MA Cultural Council, a state agency.

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary year, VSA arts of Massachusetts works to leverage access for people with disabilities through the arts. VSA arts of Massachusetts leads through a consortium of school systems, cultural institutions, universities, and human service agencies to creatively leverage programs, services, policy, and events in three program areas: 1) Create art programs in the schools to integrate students with and without disabilities, 2) Create programmatic and physical access to cultural and other public facilities, 3) Create sustainable opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities. VSA arts of Massachusetts represents part of an international network of VSA arts organizations founded in 1974 by Jean Kennedy Smith as an affiliate of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Wheelock Family Theatre celebrates its 25th year of creating intergenerational and multicultural productions that provide a shared experience for the whole family. Their productions celebrate the diverse range of families found in the world today and seek to unite them in the shared experience of live theatre. WFT is especially dedicated to those who are historically under-served: people of color, people with disabilities, and low-income families. Winner of the 2005 Commonwealth Award, Massachusetts' Highest Honors in Art / Science / Humanities, and Winner of the 2005 LEAD Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts & The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation for Leadership in Accessibility, WFT was the first theatre in New England to audio-describe productions for blind patrons and the first in Boston to open caption all performances for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Since their inception, they have interpreted every WFT production in American Sign Language for deaf patrons. WFT was instrumental in introducing these services and new technologies to other professional theatres in Boston. They are also one of the few theatres in America to offer a theatre education program for deaf teen-agers. Access is not limited to their audiences-actors who are blind, deaf, and physically disabled are given unprecedented performance opportunities on the WFT stage. Their access efforts have been hailed by the Bay State Council of the Blind and the Massachusetts State Association of the Deaf, among others.

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