April 5, 2006
National Theatre of the Deaf
Theatre by definition is that branch of the performing arts concerned
with acting out stories in front of an audience using combination of
speech, gesture, music, dance, sound and spectacle – indeed any one or
more elements of the other performing arts (wikipedia.org). The National
Theatre of the Deaf, “ better known by its abbreviation NTD” (Baldwin,
1993) exemplifies this definition and defines a worthy competitor in the
use of elements.
Accomplished Broadway set designer David Hays founded the NTD in 1967.
Hays took charge as the artistic director and utilized the Eugene
O’Neill Memorial Theatre in Waterford Connecticut (Baldwin, 1993). The
NTD was established to provide an arena for deaf actors to become
professionals and share their art with all audiences. Both deaf and
voice actors create productions utilizing American Sign Language and the
spoken word. The original works performed by the NTD were translations
of the classics, such as Woyzeck, Gilgamesh, The Three Musketeers and
Volpone. In 1971 that changed with the production of My Third Eye, an
original company piece (Humphries & Padden, 1988).
In the ensuing years the NTD has performed in all fifty states, seven
continents, produced over one hundred national tours, thirty-one
international tours and reached the milestone of ten thousand
performances as a touring company (NTD, 2006). A lofty resume by all
In the early days it was those gifted with a vision, David Hays, Dr.
Edna S. Levine, Mary Switzer and her Vocational Rehabilitation
Administration colleagues acquiring grants authorized by VRA that gave
life to NTD (Baldwin, 1993). The past thirty-nine years has produced
great strides for the NTD and those dedicated to supporting the deaf in
sharing their artistry. The magnitude of the financial support that has
developed distinguishes the NTD in the American theatre (Neisser, 1983).
In 2006 The National Theatre of the Deaf is able to recognize support
from such sponsors as The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, The
Friars Foundation, Metlife Foundation, Connecticut Commission on Culture
and Tourism, Department of Education, VSA Arts and the American School
for the Deaf. The support of these sponsors enables the NTD to fulfill
their mission of “providing theatrical works to as culturally diverse
and inclusive audience as possible and providing community outreach
activities that will educate and enlighten the general public” (NTD,
Since it’s initial presentation at the O’Neill Center in 1967 accolades
for the NTD have been numerous, including the 1977 Tony award for
theatrical excellence. While researching the NTD a most moving reading
was a review by Taras B. Denis, a columnist for Deaf America. The mere
beauty of the words compels one to read on. “All told, the new theatre-
the showboat of the nation’s deaf – has been launched. Commissioned, but
yet unchristened, she floats in port: Proud, the promise of potential in
her planks, confident that her captain will come up with a crew capable
of challenging the often rough seas of the entertainment world. How will
she sail? What storms will she weather? What ports will she visit? What
cargo will she unload? Above all, what new dramatic adventures will she
be able to add in the log of her sister ships already on these seas? Not
just time, but tide, too, will tell” (Baldwin, 1993).
Time and tide have told the story, one that inspires as the journey
Baldwin, S. (1993).
Pictures in the
Air: The Story of the National Theatre of the Deaf.
Washington, DC: Galludet University Press.