Through darkness and silence

For theater troupe Nalaga’at, believing requires neither seeing nor hearing for its blind and deaf actors.

Nalaga’at 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Nalaga’at 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Try to imagine what it’s like to live your life neither hearing nor seeing. Imagine the difficulties of communicating with the other inhabitants of your world, who all seem to be chattering away and interacting in ways that make little sense to you.
Then, increase your challenge exponentially by landing yourself onstage. As an actor, it is your job to communicate with others and inspire in them a deeper understanding of your life and the fundamental human condition that, after all is said (or communicated in some other way) and done, unites us all.
Now you have the makings of high drama.
American audiences will be able to bear witness to what happens next. The Nalaga’at Theater, the only troupe in the world whose actors are deaf and blind, is leaving its comfortable home in Jaffa to perform Not by Bread Alone at the Skirball Center in Manhattan from January 16 to February 3.
The Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble was founded in 2002 by Adina Tal to integrate deaf-blind people into the community; promote their needs and aspirations; and provide them with the opportunity to express themselves in a creative way. A key component of Tal’s vision is giving audiences a wholly unique and powerful theater experience – one that will linger in their consciousness long after the curtain falls.
Described as “a magical journey that spans various stories, dreams and locations,” Not By Bread Alone features 11 deaf and blind actors. It has been performed not only in Israel, but also in South Korea and London, where one reviewer called it “a test of theater itself, the way good work can communicate across the boundaries of darkness and silence” (Lyn Gardner, The Guardian). This will also be Nalaga’at’s third visit to New York, the previous one being in 2005.
During the course of the show, audiences should not be surprised to occasionally hear the beat of a drum on stage. Through its vibration, this cue announces the start of a new scene to actors who can neither see nor hear the drum.
This kind of deepening awareness about the creative force of sensory adaptation will also go well beyond what transpires onstage. On tap for the public will be replicas of Nalaga’at’s two Jaffa eateries, which will be open both before and after the show. At Cafe Kapish, all waiters are deaf and communicate with the guests in sign language, teaching them a different form of communication. At BlackOut, guests dine in absolute darkness, and blind waiters serve as their guides.
The object of both the play and the dining experiences is to create a powerful and visceral understanding of what it’s like to live one’s entire life without two of our most important senses, says Tal, who continues to guide the troupe as the Nalaga’at Center’s artistic director and its CEO.
“And what excites me most about the upcoming production in New York is, each time another person sees the amazing things our actors accomplish onstage, our dream becomes more of a reality,” she says. “As we reach new audiences, and as they open their minds and hearts to another way of living, more and more people from all over the world are making it their dream as well.”
The Skirball will also host a festive Gala Night on January 23 as an awareness- and fund-raiser for the not-for-profit Nalaga’at Center. During that evening, the performance will be followed by a cocktail reception.