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New forms of communication onstage

New forms of communication onstage

The Na Laga’at Theater is the world’s only ensemble of deaf-blind actors. Onstage, they find their common language.

“Na Laga‛at” is Hebrew for “please touch”, which not only symbolizes direct, tactile communication, but also an encounter of two worlds. Most members of the Na Laga’at ensemble suffer from Usher Syndrome, a genetic condition resulting in deafness from birth and deteriorating vision over the course of the person’s lifetime. Because of these symptoms, classic sign language is often insufficient – the condition calls for new ways and forms of communication. This is why the Israeli theater center communicates largely via touch.

A tactile alphabet enables blind and deaf actors to express themselves by touching their own and their interlocutor’s hands. But this tactile alphabet is only one of many results of the continuous research at the center. Members also explore new forms of communication onstage. As most actors are unable to perceive acoustic signals, interpreters beat on large drums whose tremor can be sensed by all ensemble members and thus serves as a common signal.

Empowerment instead of occupational therapy

The story of Na Laga’at began in 1999. The Beth David Institute for Deaf-Blind Persons started a drama group under the leadership of director Rina Fadwa. She asked Adina Tal for help, and after one year of conceptual work and rehearsals, the play Light is heard in Zig Zag premiered. In the following years, the play successfully toured Israel and the world, encouraging the two theater-makers to continue pursuing this extraordinary project. The company first needed a venue in order to conduct their activities and rehearsals in-depth. After a long search, they found an old warehouse directly at the port of Jaffa, a southern quarter of Tel Aviv. Rina and Adina rented the building from the Armenian Church, completely renovated it and founded the Na Laga’at Center in 2007. At the same time, they began rehearsing their new production Not by bread alone, which premiered in December 2007, when the center first opened its doors to the public.

Selfie beim Videodreh. Foto: Shai Hoffmann
A selfie in between shooting the video. Photo (CC BY-NC): Shai Hoffmann

At the same time, the devoted Na Laga’at team expanded its activities, offering a variety of workshops by and for the blind and deaf at the Kapish Event Center and the very special experience of dining in utter darkness at the Blackout Restaurant. In the meantime, more than 750,000 visitors have attended the Na Laga’at Center and experienced the realities of the people who work there. Since 2015, the ensemble has been showing its latest play Through the Spirit, which takes their conceptual and artistic work to a new level.

Breaking free from isolation without asking for pity

Yet what makes this place so unique isn’t just its public programming, but also its inner workings among team members. Working at the Na Laga’at Center is all about self-empowerment, which means that it isn’t occupational therapy, but gainful employment that pays fair wages. This appreciation puts all staff members on par, boosting everyone’s self-confidence. When asked what they do for a living, all cast members confidently reply: “I’m an actor.”

In order to facilitate artistic exchange, all actors are accompanied by interpreters who master sign language as well as other forms of communication. Their support enables people with different impairments to communicate with one another. The connections between the actors go beyond their professional work. Interpersonal bonds grow into long-term friendships, and both sides greatly enrich each other’s lives. Contact and eye-level encounters are extremely important to the crew. That becomes evident when Majdi Jazmaui tells us that the worst part of his condition is isolation. A person who can neither see nor hear is excluded from many aspects of social life – and that is not the case at Na Laga’at. The center’s artistic output raises awareness for other forms of perception. Pity has no place in this concept.

Within the team, crew members without impairments also learn new forms of communication. CEO Pony Brzezinski has learned one thing during her time with Na Laga’at: “The sky’s the limit.”

    About

    October 2016
    Culture
    Israel, Tel Aviv

    Na Laga’at Center

    Author

    Isabel Gatzke
    majors in Cultural Studies andAesthetic Practice at the University of Hildesheim.

    Translated by

    Kerstin Trimble

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