Last night, I attended the Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble, Directed by Adina Tal, at the NYU Skirball Center. Nalaga’at has a permanent home located in Jaffa, Tel Aviv in Israel.
While waiting in the lobby, they had a Cafe/Bar staffed by Deaf young people both from Israel and New York, who communicated through sign language. It was truly an experience. Since I sign, I took advantage of communicating with the Israeli staff to see the differences between American Sign, English Sign and Israeli Sign. Due to my communicating with the staff, a long line formed behind me for the bar. I was somewhat embarrassed by my holding up the line. Finally, I decided it was time to move on.
As we sat in the lobby, I recognized people from different corners of my past who had come to see the show. It felt as though I were attending a reunion of people I had long ago been involved with during various stages of my life. As we waited to be allowed into the theatre, two young, Deaf Israeli staff members stood on a small stage. They taught the audience several Hebrew words to sign (English translation was held up on cue cards). I was quite impressed with the words I learned last night, as I was not familiar with Hebrew Sign. Falafel, humus, Jerusalem, good appetite, good-bye. . . (These were not at all similar to the English version.)
Now for the show. It was nothing like what I expected. My expectations were that this was going to be performed by a deaf/blind group similar to that of a Broadway show. It would be entertaining. How was it different? It was the true life stories of each actor and actress. The majority of the actors/actresses have Usher Syndrome. Only one actor was born blind, but everyone was deaf/blind. Some had hearing initially, and lost it. Some were born Deaf. All had hearing families. Their vision was lost at different points in their lives. Some young, some at an older stage in their life.
The show was their personal stories. Their adolescence. Their questioning God, and their loneliness, What their lives were like before losing their vision. How hard it was to “just” be deaf, and how they felt alienated from their friends and families. For those who lost hearing later in life, the loss of music, conversations. Finally acceptance came, and then discovering they were going blind.
One moving story was about one of the actors who was born blind and lost his hearing at age 11 due to meningitis. He describes how a friend at age 14 gave him a cigarette, and how it made him feel “free and independent.” Those who could see at one time spoke of the people they would never see again. The newspaper that would never be read with a cup of coffee. Most of all, their isolation and need to feel someone’s hand touch their hand to feel a presence.
During all of these personal stories, they were making bread and sharing their dreams. Each spoke of what it meant to them to work, play, dream and hope. My heart and mind were confused. I wasn’t sure whether my heart was breaking for these extraordinary people, or if I should feel happiness in what they accomplished. The experience was a very individual one. I could relate to every story focused on losing your hearing later in life. However, for me, the moral of the story, was that we all want the same thing. To be included, to be loved, to find a partner, to laugh, to dream and to feel we accomplished something with our lives. This show is unbelievably creative.
I should mention, this show provided three large monitors with captioning, one on each side of the stage and one above the stage. ASL interpreters to translate the Hebrew into ASL for the audience. The actors/actresses themselves all spoke in Hebrew or used hand in hand Hebrew signing with their fellow actors/actresss who mostly communicated in this fashion. There were two or three actors and one actress who did not speak but only signed. When the show was over, the audience was invited to come up on stage, taste the bread that was baked and have an opportunity to speak to the actors and actresses. Every actor/actress had their own interpreter. Now this is what I call total and complete accessibility.
After seeing this show, I will say this much, I am truly grateful for what I have, who I am and the life I’ve experienced. Below is a short preview of the show. It starts off a bit foggy but stay with it as its done purposely this way