NYJMH Festival — Day 3

Through Quiet Darkness, A Creative Spirit
by Starre Vartan
When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to put a blindfold on me and turn me loose in our multilevel house to fend for myself. Sometimes she would guide me with her voice, and sometimes she would be silent. A few times she joined me, and blindfolded herself, she would show me how to maneuver around using my other senses. It would go on for a half hour or more, and it was a formative experience for me as a child, and was one of the reasons I learned sign language. Truthfully, that’s the closest I ever got to relating to the Israeli actors in Nalaga’at, most of whom have Usher’s disease, which renders them not only blind, but deaf as well; they communicate using sign language by touch.
Adina Tal, the artistic director of the troupe, originally started it as simply a drama class, but as she says, “I quickly fell in love with the group.” As for the logistics of putting on a performance with these kind of actors, she says, “It’s crazy to work with people who’s main problem is communication when theatre is about communication between the actors and the audience. It’s a major challenge for them just to communicate among themselves.”
Each of the twelve actors presented a vignette of their dreams as a way of communicating their pain, joy, hope and frustration with the world around them. Through miming and music (and in several cases speech) each blind-deaf actor took center stage over the hour performance. One man wanted only to be a bus driver, making his rounds. Another wanted to be a hero, exalted by all those around him. One man wanted to be a millionaire, so he could date beautiful women and eat whatever he liked. An older woman just wanted to throw a fabulous dinner party, and several expressed their sadness that they could not see us, or hear us, or help themselves in life; they were angry to always be dependent on others. It was, at times, heartbreaking, but also quite funny too as the stories veered from fanciful to poignant.
They were guided and assisted by red-shirted helpers who kept to the background, and indicated applause and scene changes through a series of various touches, and moved props around. One of the actors was a terrific physical comedian, while the bongo-drum playing of another was the best I’ve ever heard. And a tiny older lady played an Israeli tune that everyone seemed to know- on the piano, flawlessly, even though she could not see the keys nor hear the melody.
As for the eventual aims of the group, “We plan to open an arts Center where deaf/blind people will perform theatre, do massage, and even have a restaurant that’s all in the dark. Usually at centers for people with disability, they’re there to be taken care of, but here we have the idea that they can give to society. It’s only by giving can they be actively involved in it. We want to open the center by the summer of 2006, in Tel Aviv, but still need money and partners.”
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