Bernard Bragg, The Father of Deaf Theatre, Dies
On Tuesday, October 29th the first American Deaf actor, Bernard Bragg, passed away in the company of his loved ones at the age of 90. Dear friends, including Marlee Matlin, will miss him dearly and remember his legacy:
Bernard Bragg was born in Brooklyn, New York to two Deaf parents and grew up learning ASL. He attended the New York School for the Deaf and Gallaudet University, where he showed his passion for the theater. Under the direction of deaf professor Frederick Hughes he successfully starred in several school plays and even won awards for these roles. In addition to his knack for theater Bragg also wrote and won awards for his poetry, including the Teegarden Award for Creative Poetry in his senior year. After graduating at Gallaudet Bragg became a teacher at the California School for the Deaf (Berkeley) and directed drama productions for the school.
In 1956 Bragg met world-famous mime Marcel Marceau after one of his shows in San Francisco, and Marceau offered to mentor him as a mime in France. Bragg accepted and moved to Paris briefly to
learn the skill. Upon his return to the States, he resumed his teaching career but also toured as a mime in California. He then decided to pursue a Master’s degree at San Francisco State University in Special Education (with a minor in drama, of course!), all while still teaching and doing occasional shows.
Bragg was approached soon after by Dr. Edna Levine, inspired to create a theater specifically for Deaf actors and patrons. There was initially a small funding problem, but luckily David Hays (a Broadway set designer) took interest! Together Bragg, Hays, and several other deaf actors all came together to officially found the National Theatre of the Deaf in Connecticut.
His obituary was published in the Los Angeles Times the following day, requesting that donations be made to Gallaudet University, New York School for the Deaf, Deaf West Theatre or Jewish Deaf Community Center instead of flowers.
The History of The National Theatre of the Deaf
Now that we know how it got started, let’s talk about some of the NTD’s notable accomplishments! Shortly after the National Theatre of the Deaf was founded NBC gave some of the actors a 1-hour special in which the actors only used Sign Language, which earned national attention as well as the criticisms of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (which promotes oralism instead of signed language). The group began performing around Connecticut and moved the location of the theater several times, recently settling it where it started at the O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford in 2012.
The NTD has toured in all fifty U.S. states, thirty-three countries, and has touched every continent! The NTD has also been instrumental in the development of well of forty “deaf theatres” around the globe. In 1994, the National and Worldwide Deaf Theatre Conference had its inaugural session to facilitate communication, develop techniques, and encourage the work of deaf playwrights of these theatres. The NTD currently has toured well over 150 times nationally and has received critical acclaims for its portrayal of classic literature (including Homer and Ibsen) as well as its own original works.
“Presentations by NTD do more than just make theatre accessible to the deaf, they provide a platform for the deaf to share a cultural and social event with hearing members of the audience. This sharing promotes pride in the artistry and culture of the deaf…[t]o hearing people in particular, it provides the expression of artists from a culture most have never experienced.” -From the NTD History Page
Click HERE for a fantastic video about Sign Language theatre, including our own NTD.
November 16-18th, ASLdeafined will be presenting at the ACTFL conference. The title of our presentation, “Implementing & Integrating Technology with American Sign Language”. We will also have two booths to demonstrate the latest features on ASLdeafined.com. Come and meet our entire ASLdeafined staff. We hope to see everyone in New Orleans.
Don’t forget about ASLdeafined’s Mobile App, now available on the App Store and Google Play!
Handshape of the Week: L!
The L-handshape looks just like a capital L, as demonstrated below in the sign for LAZY.
Other signs that use the L-handshape include: