For Israeli theater troupe, believing requires neither seeing nor hearing
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For Israeli theater troupe, believing requires neither seeing nor hearing

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The Israeli Nalaga’at theater troupe is made up entirely of blind and deaf actors. Courtesy Nalaga’at Center

Try to imagine what it’s like to live your life not hearing or 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’s now 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 the Israeli port of Jaffa to perform “Not by Bread Alone” at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts 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. (In the British newspaper The Guardian, a reviewer, Lyn Gardner, wrote that its production is “a test of theater itself, the way good work can communicate across the boundaries of darkness and silence.”) This also will be the Nalaga’at’s third visit to New York, following one in 2005.

During the course of the show, audiences should not be surprised to hear the beat of a drum on stage occasionally. This cue announces the start of a new scene to actors who can neither see nor hear the drum but can feel its vibrations.

This kind of deepening awareness about the creative force of sensory adaptation will also go well beyond what happens 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 Kapish Café, all waiters are deaf and communicate with the guests in sign language, teaching them a different form of communication. At the 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 your entire life without two of our most important senses, said 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,” Tal said. “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.”

In addition, Skirball will host a festive gala night as an awareness- and fundraiser for the not-for-profit Nalaga’at Center on January 23. That evening, the performance will be followed by a cocktail reception.

“Not by Bread Alone” is performed daily until February 3, except for Fridays and Mondays. To learn more or to buy tickets, go to http://nyuskirball.org/calendar/notbybreadalone or call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111. For details about the January 23 gala, e-mail talia@nalagaat.org.il or call 646-862-1847.

JNS.org Wire Service

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