Tel Aviv’s Nalaga’at Theater Company Performs Not by Bread Alone
Thursday, April 3rd at the Paramount Theater

This spring, the Israel-based Nalaga’at Theater Company—an ensemble consisting entirely of actors who are both deaf and blind—will perform their extraordinary work in Boston for the first time. But this impressive company almost didn’t exist. Adina Tal, their director who made it all happen, will be the first to tell you that.

Tal had been asked many times to work with disabled people, and always refused. “I didn’t like what I had seen [in the realm of disabled theater work],” she said, and felt uneasy at the thought of people coming to see their shows because they felt guilty. But for some reason—seemingly unbeknownst to Tal herself—one day she relented, agreeing to work on a two-month theater workshop with deaf/blind people in Tel Aviv. The beginning was difficult for her; Tal felt she had no personal connection to the actors’ disabilities, and did not know how to work with them.

The group of actors she began working with 14 years ago have Usher syndrome; they were born deaf, and gradually lost eyesight around the age of 12. While they can sign, they can only communicate by touching another person’s hands—which explains the company’s name, “Nalaga’at,” translated as “do touch.”

Given their limitations, Tal focused on using pantomime with the group. But one day, an actor named Yuri Tevordovsky approached her and gave her a piece of his mind. “Why are we doing this pantomime?” he asked. “It’s stupid.” When Tal asked him what he’d rather be doing, he replied, “Gorky.”

While the company still didn’t do Gorky, this exchange marked a shift in Tal’s approach. She realized the actors thought that to be a “real” actor meant reading from a script, so she began to develop a production that encompassed their own stories—which were much more personal and powerful. She says, “I believe if you want to be a good actor, you need to touch your own truths, and by touching your own truths it becomes a universal truth.”

Tal fell in love with the group and the challenge of working with the world’s first professional deaf/blind theater company. They opened the Nalaga’at Center in December 2007, which includes a “black-out” restaurant where diners experience their meals as if they were blind themselves. The actors have traveled the world since the Center opened its doors—especially impressive, considering that each performer needs help 24 hours a day, and must travel with a team of translators (usually at least two per actor). Tal estimates that by this point, about half a million people have seen Not By Bread Alone.

Why has this production seen such success? Tal says it best: “I believe that you go out a little bit different than when you came in. Because I think it’s not really about deafness anymore – it’s about not being perfect. And once you accept not being perfect in yourself, you will accept other people’s imperfectness. I think this is a way to slowly change society and the world.”

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