J Names

Improv meets ASL

Jay Flewelling and Blake Wales want to unite deaf and hearing audiences

When actor Blake Wales first watched a performance by the improv comedy group J Names, he was deeply impressed. There was just one problem. He wished that his father, who is deaf, could have the opportunity to enjoy the show.

“I remember thinking, ‘This would be amazing if my dad could laugh with a hearing audience,’” Wales says. “That’s something a lot of deaf people don’t get to do.”

Now they can. Since last year, Wales has been working with J Names—and the group’s founder, Jay Flewelling—as an ASL interpreter. It’s a challenging and rewarding job that takes all of Wales’ skills as both an ASL speaker and an improv performer (as play-goers who attend the group’s Friday show at Curious Comedy Theater can see).

“’This is amazing. Why aren’t more people doing it? When are you doing it again?’ Those are the questions that I get after I do a show with J Names,” Wales says. “Hearing that need just made me more inspired to respond to it.”

The J Names Group. Photo: Andy Batt

J Names is one of the best-known improv groups in Portland, and Flewelling—who has also worked with Wales at Oregon Children’s Theater—jumped at the chance to expand their audience. “No one has been as excited about this as Jay has,” Wales says.

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