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 with you through sign language. It was truly an experience and since I sign, I took advantage of communicating with the Israeli staff to see the difference between American Sign, English Sign and Israeli Sign language. 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 and finally decided it was time to move on.
As we sat in the lobby, I recognized people from all different corners of my past life 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 and 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 (nothing similar to the English version) were just some of the words taught.
Now for the show, it was nothing like what I expected. My expectations were that this was going to be a show 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 is deaf/blind. Some had hearing initially and lost it. Some were born Deaf and 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 adolescents, their questioning God, their loneliness, their lives before losing their vision and how hard it was to “just” be deaf and feel alienated from their friends and families conversations.. For those who lost hearing later in life, the loss of music, conversations and finally acceptance and than discovering they were going blind. A very descriptive story by one of the actors who was born blind and lost his hearing at age 11 due to meningitis, describes how a friend at age 14 gave him a cigarette and how it made him feel “free and independent.” For 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 and 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 are 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 extrodinary people or should I feel happiness in what they have accomplished. The experience is a very individual one and 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 have 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