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Israel’s Deaf-Blind Theater Ensemble Arrives

Nalaga’at gives American theatergoers a new experience

Natalie Schachar
February 04, 2013

Conceived and directed by Adina Tal, ¨Not By Bread Alone¨ is a production by Nalaga´at, the world’s only deaf-blind theater ensemble. While the actors cannot see or hear though, the loud applause over the last weekend of the New York showing may have confirmed that the play successfully bridged the communicative gap between cast and audience.

¨It was received very well, and the New York audience is a great audience, said Tal, in an interview at the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts. ¨It transcends so many cultures, it´s about humanity and the human spirit.¨

The entire performance happens in the time it takes the 11-member cast to bake bread in onstage ovens, and as the aroma wafts around the audience, the show becomes a true sensory experience. The actors rely on tactile signals from one another and they produce sights and sounds for the audience in a series of lively vignettes about their memories and dreams.

¨Welcome to our darkness and silence. We invite you to share our everyday lives together,¨ says actor Itzik Hanuna at the beginning of the show.

Over the two years that the actors rehearsed for the play, the cast established functional elements that helped them to navigate their surroundings and interact with the audience. The rhythm of a drum cues a scene change, for example, even though most of the actors cannot see the instrument or hear its booming sound. The actors learned how to sense the vibrations created by the instrument, however, and the sound cues a scene change. Similarly, the warmth given off by heat lamps helps the actors find their position onstage.

As such, the storyline itself reiterates that the actors are blind and deaf, but the actors´ movements and body language during the performance can even make their disabilities easy to forget. But while every part of the show is planned meticulously, the story of the deaf-blind theater troupe itself happened more by coincidence. More than ten years ago, Tal reluctantly gave a workshop to a class of deaf-blind people, and it ended up changing her life.

Following a few successful performances early on, the director helped convert a vacant warehouse with no electricity or water into the thriving Nalaga´at cultural center at the Jaffa Port in Tel-Aviv in 2002. Since the center’s opening, it has developed and produced innovative ventures such as acting workshops for the deaf and blind, a restaurant with blind waiters, and a coffee shop with deaf waiters.

For now though, Tal remains unsure how the Nalaga´at Center has benefitted from all the attention, but she does mention it´s just the beginning. ¨We´ve gotten interest from all over the US. People flew here just to see the show because it was cheaper than flying to Israel to see it,¨ she said. ¨Could you mention we could still use some funding in your article though?¨

Earlier: Eating Blind

Natalie Schachar is an editorial intern at Tablet. A recent graduate of Barnard College, she has written for the Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The Argentina Independent and Lilith Magazine.