By Kimily Gerking
Sunday, April 5, 2009
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
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.
Baldwin, S. (1993). Pictures in the Air. Washington D.C.: Gallaudet
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: