BWW Reviews: A Conversation with Adina Tal of Nalaga'at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble
As a part of this month's international theater festival at the Kennedy Center, audiences have had a rare opportunity to meet directors of some of the world's most innovative companies -and a personal highlight for me was having the chance to meet Adina Tal, founder of the Nalaga'at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble and director of the production Not By Bread Alone that will be appearing here for two nights. Ms. Tal appeared as part of a Director's Forum, moderated by Georgetown University's Derek Goldman, in the Terrace Theatre this past Sunday, and all of us who attended found her eminently approachable.
Audiences in the Washington area are already familiar with the work of deaf actors, whether through the National Theater of the Deaf, productions at Gallaudet or Studio Theater's recent hit show Tribes, and we have become more aware of how the deaf community has created a cultural identity of its own. There are other communities, however, that richly deserve their place in the limelight, and here is where Ms. Tal's work comes in: she works with performers born with Usher Syndrome, a hereditary condition that usually involves profound hearing loss, followed by eventual blindness. In most cases, a child diagnosed with Usher Syndrome is taught sign language, a skill that becomes more important as they reach adulthood and their sight begins to fail them. From that point on, communication is achieved primarily by touch-a condition we are more familiar with through the story of Helen Keller.
When Adana Tal was first approached about working with the Usher Syndrome community in Israel, where she had worked on traditional stage for years, she hesitated at first. Tal observes that there is a tendency to put "disability theater" on the shelf, and dust it off for small-scale performances for the benefit of family and friends. Tal didn't want to treat the community with that kind of condescension, and her ultimate goal-achieved over a long period of workshops-was to create professional-quality pieces for the stage, drawing from the Usher Syndrome community's lives and experiences. The results have astonished audiences the world over, and Nalaga'at ("Do Touch," in Hebrew) has become a major cultural phenomenon.
Tal's work has now expanded well beyond the stage; now located in a renovated warehouse in the port of Jaffa in Tel Aviv, the Nagala'at Center has embraced a broader mission of bringing the deaf, the blind, the deaf-blind and seeing-hearing communities together, to enhance their mutual understanding. It doesn't just have a theater: Tal smiled widely as she described the Center's "Café Kapish," where you can order coffee and snacks through sign-language or mime, and "Black Out," a restaurant that serves your meal in total darkness-an effect that heightens the sense of taste and smell.
In a separate article I will give my impressions of their current show, Not By Bread Alone, but for now I would invite all of you to have a look at the Center's home page:
Tal also has a great "TED Talk" on YouTube, complete with an impromptu lesson in sign language:
Performances for the World Stages: International Theater Festival take place March 10-30 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. For tickets and more information, visit:
Shown in Photo: Adina Tal, Founder, President and Artistic director of Nalaga'at Center
(Unattributed, taken from the Nalaga'at website).