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National Theatre of the Deaf
Founded1967; 57 years ago (1967)
HeadquartersWest Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
Coordinates41°46′17″N 72°44′51″W / 41.7712702°N 72.7473777°W / 41.7712702; -72.7473777
Tyrone Giordano[1]

The National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) is a Connecticut-based theatre company founded in 1967. It is the oldest theatre company in the United States with a continuous history of domestic and international touring, as well as producing original works.[2] NTD productions combine American Sign Language with spoken language to fulfill the theatre's mission statement of linking Deaf and hearing communities, providing more exposure to sign language, and educating the public about Deaf art. The NTD is affiliated with a drama school, also founded in 1967, and with the Little Theatre of the Deaf (LTD), established in 1968 to produce shows for a younger audience.[3]

Prior to the National Theatre of the Deaf, there were no theatre college-level programs created to support deaf aspiring actors. Furthermore, there were three major deaf theatre groups, these being "The New York Association of the Deaf," "The New York Theatre Guild of the Deaf" and "The Metropolitan Theatre guild of the Deaf."

The first official performance of the NTD was a production of The Man With His Heart in the Highlands at Wesleyan University in 1967.[4] NTD members participated in the first National and Worldwide Deaf Theatre Conference in 1994. Many deaf actors have earned acclaim through their work with the NTD in performances, conferences, and community outreach. The NTD has been fundamental in the creation of an international Deaf theatre community, and has received several awards, including the Tony Award for Theatrical Excellence. The company has visited each of the 50 states during over 150 national tours, as well as over 30 countries.


The vision for the National Theatre of the Deaf was brought into the world by Edna S. Levine, a psychologist, and Anne Bancroft, an actress playing a deaf role (see below). They were able to combine their passion for theatre and desire to promote deaf art into being the spark plugs for NTD.

In 1946, Robert Panara, a graduate of Gallaudet University and newly hired teacher at the New York School for the Deaf, produced a play with Bernard Bragg, a 17-year-old student in Panara's English class.[5] Later in the 1940s, when Bragg was a student at Gallaudet, Panara left New York School for the Deaf to teach at Gallaudet. While both at Gallaudet, Panara and Bragg conceived of the idea of a theater for the Deaf.[6]

In 1963, Dr. Edna Levine, a professor of Deaf studies at New York University, saw Bragg perform a one-man show in New York City. She asked him for a meeting and shared her own vision for a national theater for the deaf.[7] In 1965, they obtained a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to establish the NTD. Additional grant money was given by the Office of Education.[4] Mary E. Switzer of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and Boyce R. Williams and Malcolm Norwood of the Rehabilitation Services Administration were important advocates of funding the NTD.[8]

Levine and Bragg worked with set designer David Hays, a Harvard graduate who had experience in theatrical design and was a well-known broadway designer, to establish a mission statement, locate funding, select a location, and assemble a company. The founders also included Anne Bancroft, who played Annie Sullivan in the Broadway production of The Miracle Worker, and Arthur Penn and Gene Lasko, directors of The Miracle Worker.[8] Bancroft and Hays were drawn to work with one another because both "were captivated by the idea that sign language had a place on the world's stage as a performing art form."[9]

Mission and location

The founders' mission was to feature sign language in the theater for both deaf and hearing audiences. The founders believed that audience members need to "hear every word and see every word" in all NTD productions.[10] To fulfill this mission, productions included both Deaf and hearing actors. The language used by the Deaf performers included sign language, mime, and gesture, and the hearing actors provided spoken language. Bragg had studied under the French mime Marcel Marceau, and his acting style influenced the early NTD productions.[11][12][13]

Originally, the NTD was located on the campus of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Connecticut. In 1983, the NTD moved to Chester, Connecticut.[8]: 63–64  In 2000, the NTD moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and in 2004 moved onto the campus of the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford. Since 2012, the NTD has again been based at the O'Neill Theatre Center while maintaining a satellite office on the campus of the American School for the Deaf.[4]

Furthermore, the NTD focuses on fighting perceptions of those who are Deaf. The NTD fights to be a catalyst for social change.  Its mission is to tell authentic stories while furthering the representation and roles of Deaf actors and performers. There is a celebration of all cultures and groups. NTD had a mission to help underserved populations, wanting to assist people by engaging, educating, and entertaining their audience.

As stated in NTD's "National Theatre of the Deaf Public Testimony before Appropriations Committee" written by Betty Beekman the Executive Director in March of 2015, the missions statement of NTD is "to present theatrical work of the highest quality, performing in the unique style we created through blending American Sign Language and spoken word.

In support of this mission, NTD:

Actors, instructors, and curriculum

The founding company included:

Early instructors in the school included:

The school's curriculum included:

Notable actors

Phyllis Frelich received the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in 1980 for Children of a Lesser God, produced by the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

Linda Bove appeared regularly on the television series Sesame Street.

Most recently, NTD alumni Troy Kotsur, who had performed with NTD from the years of 1991 to 1993, in both the shows Ophelia and Treasure Island, received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the film Coda. In fact, in his acceptance speech, he thanked " "all of the Deaf theaters that have given me the opportunity to grow as an actor."

Other actors who have worked with NTD include Colleen Dewhurst, Sir Michael Redgrave, Chita Rivera, Jason Robards, and Meryl Streep.[14] NTD actress Jane Norman went on to become a prominent voice in deaf media studies at Gallaudet University.[15] While some NTD actors have achieved recognition in theatre, a greater number of Deaf actors, including Chuck Baird, Eric Malzkuhn, Ed Waterstreet, Gilbert Eastman, Mary Beth Miller, Freda Norman, and Manny Hernandez, have achieved recognition primarily within Deaf theatre.

Productions, touring, and reception

Rehearsals and performances occupied most of each day for both company actors and students. The company toured by bus domestically and internationally. They received only part-time pay, and paid out-of-pocket for their travel.[8]: 125–129  Both the company and the students lived dormitory-style at the O'Neill Theater Center while rehearsing, and slept either on the bus or in inexpensive hotels while touring domestically. While touring internationally, the actors stayed in hostels.[8][16]

The company performed plays written by hearing and Deaf playwrights.[8]: 121–124  Hearing audiences have generally had positive responses to NTD productions, while Deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences have often had mixed reviews. Deaf and Hard of Hearing audience members sometimes expected productions to be more focused around the Deaf experience, and to be less dramatized. Some Deaf audience members have seen NTD productions as catering to hearing audiences, which has generated a negative response. However, many Deaf audience members have responded positively and appreciated NTD productions.[8]: 115–116 

The NTD has been discussed in newspapers such as Silent News, journals such as the Puppetry Journal, and television shows such as Deaf Mosaic, which aired during the 1980s and 1990s. Many scholars have written about the NTD in books and dissertations.[8]: 24–25, 41–42, 55–56, 70–71, 83–84, 95–96, 109–110, 117–118 

Furthermore, NTD has recently appeared on both Disney Plus, Sesame Street, and The White House.

Year(s) Show Title
1967–1968 The Man With His Heart in the Highlands
1967–1968 The Tale of Kasane
1967–1968 Tyger! Tyger! And other Burnings
1967–1968 Gianni Schicchi
1967–1968 On the Harmfulness of Tobacco
1968–1969 The Critic
1968–1969 Camera 3 (LTD)
1968–1969 The Love of Don Perlimoplin and Belissa in the Garden
1968–1969 Blueprints
1969–1970 Under Milkwood
1969–1970 Sganagelle
1970–1971 Woyzeck
1970–1971 Journeys
1971–1972 My Third Eye
1972–1973 Gilgamesh
1973–1974 Optimism (or) The Misadventures of Candide
1973–1974 A Child's Christmas in Wales
1974–1975 The Dybbuk
1974–1975 Priscilla, Princess of Power
1975–1976 Parade
1976–1977 Four Saints in Three Acts
1976–1977 On the Harmfulness of Tobacco
1977–1978 The Three Musketeers
1977–1978 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
1977–1978 Who Knows One
1978–1979 Volpone
1978–1979 Quite Early One Morning
1979–1980 Our Town
1979–1980 Four Thurber Tales (LTD)
1979–1980 The Wooden Boy
1980–1981 The Iliad: Play by Play
1980–1981 Silken Tent
1981–1982 The Ghost of Chastity Past
1981–1982 Gilgamesh
1981–1982 Issa's Treasure
1981–1982 The Road to Cordoba
1982–1983 Parzival, from the Horse's Mouth
1982–1983 Big Blue Marble (LTD)
1983–1984 The Hero with a Thousand Faces
1984–1985 All the Way Home
1984–1985 A Christmas Carol
1984–1985 A Child's Christmas in Wales
1985–1986 In a Grove
1985–1986 Race a Comet, Catch a Tale (LTD)
1985–1986 Farewell, My Lovely!
1986–1987 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
1986–1987 The Gift of the Magi
1987–1988 The Dybbuk
1987–1988 A Child's Christmas in Wales
1987–1988 The Light Princess
1988–1989 King of Hearts
1989–1990 The Odyssey
1990–1991 One More Spring
1990–1991 Collaborates with Pilobolus
1991–1992 Treasure Island
1992–1993 Ophelia
1992–1993 Sports (LTD)
1993–1994 Under Milkwood
1993–1994 The Wonderful "O" (LTD)
1994–1996 Italian Straw Hat
1996–1997 Curiouser & Curioser
1997–1998 Peer Gynt
1997–1998 World of Whys (LTD)
2020–2021 Deafenstein


  1. ^ "Board". The National Theatre Of The Deaf. Retrieved September 28, 2023.
  2. ^ "National Theatre of the Deaf - HISTORY". NTD. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  3. ^ "ABOUT the Little Theatre of the Deaf". NTD. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "National Theatre of the Deaf American Theatre Company". Britannica. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  5. ^ Powers, Helen (1972). Signs of Silence: Bernard Bragg and the National Theatre of the Deaf. New York: Dodd, Mead. p. 51. ISBN 9780396066125.
  6. ^ Powers, Helen (1972). Signs of Silence: Bernard Bragg and the National Theatre of the Deaf. New York: Dodd, Mead. p. 72.
  7. ^ Powers, Helen (1972). Signs of Silence: Bernard Bragg and the National Theatre of the Deaf. New York: Dodd, Mead. p. 119.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Baldwin, Stephen C. (1993). Pictures in the Air: The Story of the National Theatre of the Deaf. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press. ISBN 9781563682223.
  9. ^ "About Us". National Theatre of the Deaf. Retrieved 2022-05-08.
  10. ^ "National Theatre of the Deaf MISSION". NTD. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  11. ^ Powers, Helen (1972). Signs of Silence: Bernard Bragg and the National Theatre of the Deaf. New York: Dodd, Mead. p. 115.
  12. ^ "Act One: It All Began on Metropolitan Street". Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  13. ^ "Honored With NTD Award". Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  14. ^ Smith, Helen C. "National theater troupe breathes life into words," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 29, 1988.
  15. ^ "Papers of Jane Norman, 1964-1980". Gallaudet University Archives. Retrieved 2021-05-10.
  16. ^ Bragg, Bernard (1989). Lessons in Laughter: The Autobiography of a Deaf Actor. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press. ISBN 9780930323462.