Blog Post

Groundbreaking New Film, Telephone, to Screen at Ohio State: An interview with filmmaker + dancer Krishna Washburn

A woman with a walker leans slightly forward in the far end of an empty dance studio. She is facing the right side of the image and standing in front of a window. The floors is wooden, brown, and gleaming. A large plant leave obscures the left part of the image

Written by Gwen Wojtkun

Art Possible Ohio, in partnership with Ohio Dance Festival, welcomes all to a free screening of Telephone on April 26. Telephone, a first-of-its-kind film by Heather Shaw and Krishna Washburn, brings awareness to audio description (AD) for dance. The film is presented as part of Art Possible Ohio’s series, Reelabilities Film Festival Columbus. 

The film approaches AD for dance from an artistic standpoint rather than the “best practices” created for television and film. Specifically produced with the visually impaired in mind, Telephone offers an immersive experience for individuals of all sight levels and displays AD as a legitimate art form rather than just a tool for accessibility. 

Telephone is an educational documentary that combines philosophies about audio description for dance and artistic examples of audio-described dance done by people in the disability art community that are at the avant-garde forefront of the audio for dance movement,” said co-director Krishna Washburn. “In a way, it’s kind of a snapshot of these people’s work.” 

Partners Turned Creative Directors 

When Krishna Washburn and Heather Shaw first met in 2020, they were partnered together in an online choreography class. What started as a Wednesday night dance class became a standing appointment where they discussed AD for dance and the lack of understanding and opportunity the dance community has for the art form. It was from these conversations that the idea of the film emerged. 

“Our work with audio description for dance really came from that connection of, ‘How can we welcome people into this art form that we know, that we love, and that so many other people love?’” stated Washburn. 

From there, the film took on a life of its own. The process began with Shaw choreographing a phrase and Washburn recreating the movement from an audio description. They continued sending the movement phrase to another audio describer, who sent it to another dancer, and so on. 

After working together for years, they had enough footage and AD to create the entire film.

A First of its Kind

While producing a film is a first for Washburn, it is not her first time creating accessible art. Before co-directing Telephone, Washburn created Dark Room Ballet, a pre-professional educational program for blind and visually impaired dancers. It allows dancers to study dance and ballet techniques using traditional blind training techniques, stated Washburn. 

As a professional dancer, Washburn recognizes the lack of training in blind dance technique. 

“Right now, I’m the only teacher teaching these skills in English,” said Washburn. 

Shortly after receiving her master’s of education from Hunter College, Washburn tried getting Dark Room Ballet classes off the ground. Using her own dance experience, or lack thereof, Washburn developed a curriculum reflecting what visually impaired people needed to learn. As one can imagine, she received lots of pushback. 

“There’s this general assumption that blind teachers can’t teach ballet,” said Washburn. “That’s ridiculous, because you can.” 

In January 2020, Washburn was asked to teach a 12-week ballet class, and although it eventually moved online, it was the start she needed to pursue Dark Room Ballet. 

Currently, Dark Room Ballet offers an open-level ballet class every Monday, different cycles of introductory ballet classes, and select pro-classes. 

“The way I think about it is, I was trained to teach people about things of which they have no prior knowledge,” said Washburn. “No matter how old someone is, if they’re learning about something new for the very first time, that’s really where my training is.”

How to Screen Telephone

Telephone is free and open to the public. The screening will take place on April 26, 1PM. Immediately following the screening, join Krishna and Heather for a short talkback.

ASL will be provided.

For more information and details about Telephone’s screening at Ohio State, visit Art Possible Ohio’s website.

To learn more about Krishna and Dark Room Ballet, visit their website.