For the ASL version of this post, click here
Hello all and welcome!
This post is my interview with Wink (Windell Smith, Jr.). I just want to say to you all that being able to interview Wink was quite an honor for me. He’s a very kind man with a ton of great ideas. He’s done so much work with ASL, interpreting (for the Deaf), and sharing his stories about growing up CODA. It’s amazing and he’s such a powerful performer.
Well that’s all I had to say, so enjoy the interview. Here we go!
RM: Hello. My name is R. M. Fraser, and this is Wink. Maybe you know him from his website winkasl.com. Hello, Wink.
Wink: Hello everyone.
RM: So my first question. So I’m a CODA and I’ve always been fascinated by other CODAs family dynamics related to language. For example, in my family, my father was very strong and pure ASL, while my mother follows more old-fashioned signed English. It was an odd linguistic mix for me growing up. I’m curious about your experience. What are your parents like?
Wink: It’s really interesting that you took in both ASL and English. Growing up in my family, ASL was my father’s thing. It was taught at the school for the deaf where he grew up. My mother grew up with an oral background in a mainstream program. Sometime after they (my parents) were married, she was involved in an accident. She lost everything upstairs and had to relearn. She mixed ASL and English. I was very close to my father. I left school in 2nd grade and was home schooled from there. When I grew up, I was with my father at his handyman business. I would be there, and just pay attention to his language. He would always explain how to fix things. He used a lot of classifiers and I took all that in. I never really got the hang of fixing things and that stuff, but I saw and was constantly exposed to that language. From my exposure, I incorporated his way of using classifiers and handshapes, etc, and that’s what comes out of me.
RM: You do “Winkshops”, you perform, and other things. How long have you been doing this?
Wink: Aaaahh. I’ve been teaching workshops for about four or five years, and I’ve been performing for about three or four years, too. The workshops did happen first before the performing.
RM: Since you’ve been performing, with all the humor in your stories, and I’m sure these are real life experiences, or at least in part.
Wink: Well, yes, but in my comedy show I tend to take what happened and tweak the whole thing. For example, the stories I perform in my comedy show about my father, the story about ‘red’, my father DID say that to me about the SEE sign ‘red’. He DID bang pots and pans and made a lot of noise to to annoy me. But him knocking the door off its hinges and pushing me out of the way DIDN’T which I think the average person can assume which parts are my imagination and fiction. I like to look at these situations and be more creative with the ASL. As for the dramatic performances I do, they are 100% true, but the time frame spans a few decades, I mean, from 1980 something -- well, really it begins when my parents were born right up until more present day. I have to condense all that into a two hour show. So I’ll take things from different times and combine them into one. So everything is real, but the delivery isn’t exactly chronological it’s condense to present the feeling, but it’s still honest.
RM: So some experiences may be mixed up. When you think back on growing up, what was the funniest thing that happened that you haven’t shared with the audience?
Wink: Umm (long pause), I think of one of the interesting things with my father. He was always very honest with me. My parents were open socially, and always discussed things in front of me, even at age 8! I mean, why? As far as remembering specific stories, well, not really, but I always remember their honesty. They were so open, and if I had a question, they would always answer. They were never vague about anything, Sometimes they were too blunt, and at 8 years old that would kind of confuse me, but it’s interesting, anyway.
RM: So you’ve made DVDs that relate to your “Winkshops”, right? And it’s really for developing ASL and a bunch of other things. I’m curious because I work in deaf education, and I have been through bilingual education training and I’ve learned that some really good theories involved with education for deaf children involve a media room, with a camera that can record their expressive (language) and make it ‘static’, so they can watch it repetitively. So I’m curious, how do you feel about its importance to deaf education?
Wink: Do you mean its importance for... what do you mean?
RM: Media use and its importance for deaf education.
Wink: Oh yes. Media, wow. Well, deaf education aside, in general education, media has failed because of old practices from the 1900s that continue today. It really hasn’t grabbed a hold of media yet. And this ASL group hasn’t either. Honestly, they’re still teaching ASL through books, which is stupid. There needs to be an increase of media when teaching deaf children so it can be seen in 3D instead of on paper. When they (student) don’t understand, it can be modeled. No doubt in how media could really improve this. My company, Winkshop, we focus on that, how to deliver it to Deaf, and hearing people learning ASL. Those two things are very important.
RM: So “Winkshops”, do you have a sign for that?
Wink: No, I just tend to spell Wink -- (RM: That’s ok, its fine) But really the company is named Wink, and its funny because my name is WInk, I guess it’s one entity to me, or that is how I see it.
RM: So do “Winkshops” really only focus on interpreting, or do you get into more than that?
Wink: Well, as I just mentioned, the Winkshop company and I are one in the same. I have many goals and that’s why I set this company up. The reason is that I can’t be the one to address all those goals alone. It’s impossible. There’s not enough time, and someday I will die. So I brought people into the company so it can continue in the event of my passing. I’ve communicated this to them, what to do, etc. So it’s not only geared for hearing people, but in general, too, for Deaf, deaf education, deaf children, Deaf adults in all sorts of genres as well, entertainment, educational, etc. I really go in-depth on all of these goals. In a few months, there will be a broader approach of a new industry that hasn’t really been tapped yet that focuses on Deaf in general. I can’t discuss it yet, but that’s why I set up this company, so that we can do all these things, and if we can, I want to do it all in one place.
RM: That would be nice to see, for sure.
I saw you perform before in Boston. I really enjoyed it, and felt like I laughed through it nonstop. My belly couldn’t catch a break, but the amount of humor you put into your experiences for the audience, how important is that? (Wink: involve what?) To involve humor in your performances.
Wink: Umm... I feel humor is quite powerful. You can say something that’s powerful, but if you add humor to it, it goes to the back of your head while you’re laughing and lingers there for a while and becomes something more that you analyze and try to derive other meanings from it, which is interesting. So, if I can convey something to others that is important and they can grasp, and add that humor in it that makes them laugh, it’ll stick and they’ll really get the message later on. So they’re willing to accept it at first, and later on really get its full meaning.
RM: I’m curious. How did you meet Keith (Wann)? How did that happen?
Wink: I forget the name of the strip club, no... We didn’t meet as “performers” He was well established as a performer before we met. I was just starting out as a dramatic/comedy performer with my one man show, I have also been a workshop presenter prior to that. Keith saw me from some of the stuff I put up on YouTube and of course we all know his stuff on YouTube. But how we first “met” was back when I was a director of outreach for a sign language interpreting agency. We reached out to Keith’s company at the time “CallVRS” in regards to a few business propositions between companies and a non-profit, we didn’t discuss performing at the time. Keith and I were involved with lots of organizations and projects and always found excuses to incorporate one another in the projects which he was gracious enough to always agree to. Eventually Keith asked “Hey you have been doing this drama stuff for awhile, you ever think about doing comedy?” I didn’t really know how to answer, but then in his very nonchalant way, “Come out next month with some material for a show.” By that time I have learned to just accept and take the offer regardless, just take it! So I went and did a short set of 10 minutes and was off the stage before I knew it. However, one unkind thing Keith did to me was he assembled a powerhouse performance group of Himself, Crom Saunders, and The Peter Cook, he put me after Peter which made me wet my pants because he is just amazing! Wasn’t fun going after somebody who brought the house down, so I half expected everyone to go to the bathroom during my anemic set. However, one thing I must say is that Keith Wann is incredibly supportive! He’s always on the look out for new young performers (I mean as in up and coming) and those that are willing to be apart of the group he will be their first and biggest fan and will show you where you need to go and even work on your bits with you. There are a scat few performers out there with the generosity to do that.
RM: For yourself, when you look into the future, do you see yourself continuing this work or do you want a change? You said that you want to add more to Winkshop to focus on other goals, but do you think you’ll continue to perform?
Wink: I feel I’ll always go on with performing because I enjoy it so much, I know when I get up on stage there will be someone in the audience who will be impacted, and that’s important to me. I also enjoy creating jokes and seeing how, why, and why not it may work and plow through that and break it down mentally, I love that process. So I think that’ll continue, and the business will expand, so it’ll be those two things.
RM: So where can people find you on the web? Where can they find your website> This is your time for shameless self promotion, so go ahead.
Wink: My website is WinkASL.com. You can find me on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, email. It’s all there on WinkASL.com. And if you search WinkASL on YouTube, Facebook, etc, you will find me. So I think that’s the easiest way to find more information. My website has a newsletter and you can be notified if I come to your area to perform, or do a workshop or whatever. So thanks for watching. Oh, and thank you R. M. Fraser!. It was an honor to be interviewed and have this exchange. I really enjoyed it.
RM: Thank you. I feel honored, too.
Wink: Great Work :)
Until next time,