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Deaf Theatre

By Kimily Gerking
Sunday, April 5, 2009

Deaf Theatre

I am intrigued by the differences between my own culture (Hearing) and the Deaf culture, specifically in theater. In my research of how Deaf theater works, I came across the National Theatre of the Deaf, or NTD. This theater company has come up with its own style of theater, linking ASL and the spoken word, which allows the opportunity to entertain as well as educate. In many performances, music has been added, making a pleasurable experience for non-hearing and hearing alike. Through this medium, the mainstream hearing society is given the chance to see aspects of the beauty and power of the Deaf culture in a way that hearing society may otherwise have missed (Beekman 2007).

Before the NTD was founded, deaf theater in America was limited to skits, mime shows, and signed songs or poems. In order to see deaf theater, one would have to go to a deaf club, which was generally a rented hall on the outside of the downtown activity (Baldwin 1993). David Hays established the National Theatre of the Deaf in 1967 and it has been operating for over 40 years. This theater started as a group of travelling performers, based out of the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre Center in Waterford, CT. In 1983, the theater company decided to find a permanent home and moved to Chester, CT. Over the years, the company has continued to tour and after a few more moves, has settled in West Hartford, CT, at the American School for the Deaf campus (Beekman 2007).

Since its beginning, the NTD has completed over 100 national tours, including performances in all 50 states, and 31 international tours, having performed in each of the 7 continents. The company has given over 10,000 performances and appeared in various television productions (Beekman 2007). Of the many performances given, some of the most well known pieces are: On the Harmfulness of Tobacco by Chekhov, Gilgamesh, The Dybbuk by Shloime Ansky, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and Treasure Island by Snoo Wilson and based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. In addition to the popular and well-known plays of the hearing society, the NTD has also performed several original pieces, written exclusively for deaf theater. My Third Eye, Priscilla, Princess of Power, and Parade are a few examples of the original plays (Baldwin 1993).

There is no doubt that the National Theatre of the Deaf has had a large impact on the arts in Deaf culture, as well as an opportunity for hearing people to learn more about the Deaf society. Unfortunately, there are concerns over how much longer the NTD will last. Due to federal budget cuts, the NTD lost about two-thirds of its funding in 2004. In an attempt to help bolster this important organization, the state of CT authorized $200,000 of emergency funds to try to help the theater going. Shortly after, the National Endowment for the Arts (N.E.A.) decided it was time to collect on a 15-year debt of $75,000. A former board member and lawyer has been working pro-bono to find a way for the N.E.A. to forgive the loan or extend the payment plan (Cowan 2006).

The public is hopeful that the legal and financial proceedings will soon be cleared up so that the NTD can focus on continuing to deliver the powerful performances they are known for. I, too, hope that the NTD can continue in its mission to entertain and educate and that I will someday have a chance to experience one of their performances.

References
Baldwin, S. (1993). Pictures in the Air. Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Beekman, Betty. (2007). About NTD. National Theatre of the Deaf. Retrieved 1, April 2009: <http://www.ntd.org/aboutntd.html>

Cowan, Alison. (2006, Aug. 10). Money woes threaten theater of the deaf. The New York Times. LexisNexis Academic. Retrieved 1, April 2009:
<http://www.lexisnexis.com.proxy.lib.csus.edu/us/lnacademic/auth/checkbrowser.do>

<http://www.ntd.org/aboutntd.html>


 


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