In Not by Bread Alone, Nalaga'at Theater, the world's only professional deaf-blind Acting Company, takes the audience on a tour of their inner world. As bread is kneaded, formed, and baked on stage, eleven extraordinary storytellers convey their memories and dreams, mixing reality and fantasy, grandeur and ridicule. Performed multiple nights each week since 2007 at the one-of-a-kind Nalaga'at Center in Tel Aviv's Jaffa Port, and following an acclaimed, sold-out run in London's 2010 LIFT Festival, the work will make its U.S. premiere at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
Performances will take place January 16-February 3, 2013 (see schedule above). Critics are welcome as of Wednesday, January 16 for an official opening on Thursday, January 17. Tickets are $40-$75 and can be purchased online at www.nyuskirball.org or by phone at 212.352.3101. The show runs 80 minutes and is performed in Hebrew (and Hebrew sign language) with English translation and subtitles.
Adina Tal, the director of Not by Bread Alone and the Founder, President and Artistic Director of Nalaga'at, has written and directed plays professionally since 1979. She founded Nalaga'at Theater in 2002 after she'd reluctantly accepted an invitation to teach a drama workshop to the deaf-blind and found that the experience had changed her life.
Following the success of the company's first production, Light is Heard in Zigzag, Tal and Eran Gur co-founded a unique cultural center at the Jaffa Port in Tel Aviv. The Nalaga'at Center, which opened in December 2007, seeks to promote the needs and aspirations of deaf, blind and deaf-blind individuals, and facilitate their full integration into society as contributing individuals. The staff and those they serve include Jews, Muslims and Christians, all working together.
For tourists and theatergoers from around the world, the Nalaga'at Center has become one of Tel Aviv's must-visit sites. The facility includes the BlackOut Restaurant, operated in complete darkness with blind waiters, and the sign language-only Café Kapish, with deaf servers. NYU Skirball Center will transport the entire experience to New York, setting up versions of BlackOut and the cafe.
In the first weeks of her work with deaf-blind people, Tal couldn't figure out how they could act, and how she might direct them. Together, they had to find-and they continue to develop-a theatrical language for the group. Before long, Tal told Lyn Gardner of The Guardian, she was able to see a distinct advantage to working with deaf-blind actors:
"Because they can't see each other, they can't imitate each other. So every action they make is very personal. If you ask them to mime eating grapes, you get 11 entirely different ways of eating grapes. That wouldn't happen with seeing actors. They can't be like anyone else. Nobody has ever seen Marlon Brando or Al Pacino act. They can't copy. That's why they are great."
To be sure, there are immense challenges Tal and the company face in developing a show. Only three of the company's members can speak. Otherwise they communicate via touch, sign language and mime. The process of developing and rehearsing Not by Bread Alone with performers and translators took two years.
The show has traveled across Europe and to Korea and will soon make its Australian and Los Angeles premieres. Performing and touring the work is as challenging as it is to develop: The company totals 30 people, including an interpreter for each performer. In addition to facilitating communication between deaf-blind company members by signing into their hands during the show, these interpreters lead the performers onto, around, and off of the stage, and also translate some of the text-the rest of which is subtitled-into microphones.
Over the course of Not by Bread Alone, the beat of a drum is occasionally heard on stage, announcing the start of a new scene. The actors can neither see the hand hitting the drum nor hear the beat, but they can feel its vibration. They acquired this ability through a long process of learning at Nalaga'at.
While the members of Nalaga'at Theater live with challenges most of us don't, their message is utterly universal: All of us need human connection, perhaps more than anything else. They drive the point home by sharing the bread they have baked with the audience at the end of the show.
Not by Bread Alone features set design by Eithan Ronel, costume design by Dafna Grossman, lighting design by Ori Robinstien, props by Liron Koren and original music by Amnon Baaham. Zvi Tal wrote and sings "Dancing Closely" and "Italian Market."