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On December 13, 2016, Gallaudet was awarded a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to support a deaf-blind theatre initiative in 2017.

This endowment is part of a $30 million grant effort by the NEA, awarded to nonprofit organizations and individuals across the country in the areas of Art Works, Creativity Connects, Challenge America, and Creative Writing Fellowships. These grants span all artistic disciplines-reaching 48 states as well as Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands-and also support partnerships between the arts and non-arts sectors.

Theatre by deaf-blind people for deaf-blind people currently does not exist. What little access deaf-blind people have to theatre comes through tactile American Sign Language interpretations of productions designed for sighted patrons.

“Hearing blind people may derive pleasure from listening to the dialogue while receiving audio description,” said deaf-blind writer, John Lee Clark, in Scene4 Magazine’s April 2015 issue. “They’d hear the actor yell, “You stole my money!” and know from the description that a gun has now come into play. For deaf-blind people, there is no direct connection. It all comes through an interpreter, secondhand, in a jumble, and you’re lost.”

The deaf-blind theatre initiative, proposed by Dr. Jill Bradbury, professor, Department of English, takes on the challenge of developing models and practices to allow deaf-blind people to participate in theatre as both audience members and actors. This will be done primarily through ProTactile communication strategies.

ProTactile is a system developed to convey environmental information, nonverbal cues, and noises/facial expressions to deaf-blind people. ProTactile emphasizes direct interaction between deaf-blind individuals, rather than mediated via sighted interpreters.

As part of the initiative, participants at a two-week summer institute will analyze immersive theatre experiences and ProTactile communication strategies to identify dramatic techniques that best accommodate the needs of deaf-blind people.

The summer institute will lay the groundwork for future productions of tactile and accessible theater. Clark will serve as lead facilitator of the summer institute, and his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet will serve as the focus text. Gallaudet Video Services will produce a short documentary on the project to broaden its impact beyond the D.C. metro area deaf-blind community.

Bradbury will serve as project director of the deaf-blind theatre initiative.

“I’m honored to receive the NEA ArtWorks grant,” said Bradbury. “It will bring together a wonderful team of people at Gallaudet and elsewhere to develop models of theatre by and for deaf-blind people.”

Ethan Sinnott, associate professor, Department of Arts, Communication and Theater, will serve as project artistic director. He will also assist in facilitating the summer institute and advise on the production, along with Rachel Grossman, artistic director of dog & pony dc.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities.

The NEA affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. It supports arts learning through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. Visit to learn more about NEA.

by Andrew Greenman, ’10 and Adham Talaat, ’14
Published December 19, 2016

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