What we learn from the deaf-blind theatre: Adina Tal at TEDxHiriya

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Denise RQ I have been in theater for my whole life. I was very often asked, “Would you please
give a workshop for disabled people?” And I always said no. It doesn’t interest me. I’m not Mother Teresa, I never had
this urge to take care of people. And then someone asked me, “Would you like to give a drama workshop
for deaf-blind people?” “Two months,” they said,
“Only two months, don’t worry.” And I said yes. I think I said yes
because I was in a stage of my life, I had a lovely career,
the kids grew up, family, and I said, “Is this
what life is all about?” I was ready to be surprised. Now, at this stage, you can take a lover (Laughter) but then you have to shave your legs. (Laughter) Or, I chose to work
with deaf-blind people. Maybe because it was only for two months, and those two months were 14 years ago. And during those 14 years
I was asked very often, “How come you started
to work with deaf-blind people? Have you someone in your family?
What is your connection?” I said, “Just coincidence.” And it took me some time to realize… I lied. Fourteen years, I lied. There’s no coincidence in life. There’s no such thing. This is about opportunities. It is about opportunities that pass
the journey of our lives. Now, if you grab
the opportunity, you have it; if you don’t, it won’t be there
two seconds later. And I did grab it, I started
to work with deaf-blind people. Had no idea what it is to be deaf-blind. Had no idea how I can work
with deaf-blind people. Theater is about communication, and the biggest problem
of a deaf-blind person is communication, so go and do theater with those people. Bless the Internet – I googled: ‘deaf-blind theater
companies in the world.’ Result? Zero. Lots of deaf theater.
Quite a lot of blind theater. No deaf-blind theater. So I said, OK, I had
the privilege to do something that nobody has done before me. The only problem was,
I had no idea how to do it. I didn’t know that most of the deaf-blind
people today in the world have a genetic disease
called Usher syndrome. Usher syndrome means that the person
is born deaf or hard-of-hearing, and from about the age of 12,
gradually starts to lose his eyesight. It gets a tunnel vision
until it closes down completely. So let’s start work. We sit in a circle,
communication is one-to-one, each one needs
his own personal translator. We squeeze hands,
we tap on each other’s knees to start some kind of dialogue
without words, and we use the drums. You have to hear a drum or to see a drum,
and they don’t hear and don’t see, and it took us months until they would be able to feel
the vibrations of the drum. And I loved it, I thought I was a genius. I was really very proud of myself, and then one day
we had a meeting, a rehearsal, and one of our actors went outside
– he still has a little bit of sight left- and I see him reading like this. Back on stage, I said to him,
“Please, go up on stage and read.” And he reads like this. “But you don’t see that!” So he got very angry and said to me, “I’m not going up on stage
reading like this, because all my life, people laughed at me
because I read like this. I want to be a regular actor.
I want to read like this. Why can’t we do Shakespeare,
Brecht, Chekhov?” All the others agreed, “Yes,
we want to be regular actors.” And it struck me, you know,
there are so many actors, a lot of them will be
much better than you are, but nobody can be who you are. And only you have the courage
to go up on stage, read like this. I can promise you one thing –
all the people in the audience, when they go out, they will never, ever
laugh at the person reading like this. They had no choice,
there was no other director, so we continued to work. And I said to them,
“But you’re going to work hard, because we need to be- to be good is not enough,
we need to be excellent. But we have to touch our inner truths,
because only if we touch our inner truths, this becomes a universal truth. Only if we have the courage
to be ourselves is this going to be of any interest
for anyone else.” I had this social worker around me
and she came to me and said, “You’re demanding too much from them. You’re not OK. You cannot work like this. They’re deaf-blind!” I said, “Yeah, I know, they’re deaf-blind,
I realized that by now.” (Laughter) But I think they were so happy that finally, someone was demanding
not just taking care of them. So we worked, worked hard. And then we had our first show,
Light is Heard in Zig Zag, which was received
with very great enthusiasm. We performed in Israel,
in New York, Montreal, Switzerland, and then we came back home and had this dream
of having a home of our own. December 2007, we opened
the Nalaga’at Center. Nalaga’at in Hebrew means “do touch.” It was very exciting to build it;
we worked like crazy. We had the rehearsal for our new show,
and it was crazy, and the big night came, we opened the center. We looked all terrible, we were so tired,
and we cried, and we laughed. The next day, I got up and was panicking. OK, we had a center, we opened it,
but now you have to run it. You have to create a routine –
three shows a week, not to talk about the fact
that our business plan was based on 60% self-income. You know, it’s like- I remember when I was pregnant
with my first son, I thought, “OK, let’s wait,
I’ll be pregnant, I go and give birth.” And then I was very surprised
that I had to take him back home. (Laughter) And this is for life. (Laughter) And here we have the center,
yes, we have to run it. No budget for advertising. My luck was that I have a very big family, and I said, “You have to come
and see the show.” And they cannot say no to me. They said, “OK, let’s go and suffer. We’ll suffer.” (Laughter) And people would come
at the beginning of the show, when we just started,
and come in and say, “Tell me please,
is the ticket tax deductible?” (Laughter) I said, “If you go to Broadway,
is it tax-deductible? No! This is a theater play.” So outside, they were laughing,
everything was fine, and then they knew
they had to come inside, it’s like going to a funeral. They get very serious faces. “Oh, my God, deaf-blind people.” They sit down. Let’s go suffer.
“How long is it?” (Laughter) And after about ten minutes, I would feel
that they started to move in their chairs. They said, “Something is wrong here,
but basically wrong. This is a good show! I came to be a good person.
How dare you do a good show.” (Laughter) “I wanted to give.” And now they’re getting;
they’re getting the gift of art. They’re getting the gift of humanity. And they have to look those people
straight into their eyes and not patting their head, and say,
“Ohh, how great you are.” No, because they were good. We were invited to New York, again. And, a year ago, I told the actors,
“You know, we are going to New York!” And they said to me, “New York again?” (Laughter) I said, “Are you kidding me?
Actors would kill to perform in New York!” And they said, “OK, but why in winter?” (Laughter) And actually, we were in winter. In January we went to New York,
and it was an utter triumph: 21 sold-out shows, and we even got one bad review. (Laughter) I was very proud. (Laughter) I think he’s an idiot. And he really is an idiot, but, I was proud because one bad review
meant that we are a normal theater group. So these are the figures of our center. 600,000 visitors,
1,000 performances, 110 employees, 70 deaf, blind, or deaf-blind people. This is our show; this is the show
we opened our center with: Not by Bread Alone. The show takes the time it takes
to make bread on stage. You’ll come into the theater,
the actors are kneading the dough. The dough is then raised, baked on stage, and at the end of the show, you’ll come and meet the actors
and taste the bread. It was very important for me
to create a common time frame, because for deaf-blind people,
there’s no present. He sits, he’s isolated, and he can be
either in the future or in the past. And by creating this time frame
and by sharing the bread, we bridge the gap
between audience and theater. Cafe Kapish, with our deaf waiters, will invite you
to a very special experience, because you have to order your food
either by signing or by miming, and I can tell you something,
nobody goes out of Cafe Kapish hungry. It has this ambiance
of Commedia dell’Arte. And then we have
the restaurant in the dark. Blind waiters will take you
into a very special dining experience in complete darkness. Was it easy? No. Definitely not. We had to find a way to our inner truths. We had to find the way to seek
and find a new theatrical language. I don’t think I understand
what it means to be deaf-blind, and I think the moment
I will understand, I’ll have to leave. But just for a moment, I would like
to ask you, close your eyes, please. OK, you still can hear me. You still are connected to me. But would you now imagine
to be deaf for 20 seconds. (Footsteps) Please open your eyes, and welcome Bat Sheva Ravenseri, a leading actress in our show,
Not by Bread Alone. And this is Noemi Elyakim,
her translator. (Applause) As I said, the show
was about making bread. It’s about dreams;
they have dreams to be famous; they have dreams to see again,
and be able to go to the movie. And there’s one scene
I really like in the show, it’s called: To the Little Joys in Life. It’s knowing how to enjoying an ice cream, feeling the wind, holding a baby, and being on a swing. I would like to show you
a glimpse of the show. Please. (Video) (Music) (Singing in Hebrew) (Video ends) (Applause) Not by Bread Alone –
we face a lot of challenges: Waiters usually don’t want
to be waiters for all their lives. Some of our waiters give today
sign-language workshops, play workshops in the dark. And we also have
some of our waiters trained as actors. We have now a very beautiful
children’s show, Prince Rooster. It’s performed by three deaf waiters
and two visually impaired waiters. It’s bilingual;
it’s in Hebrew and sign language. And we have a new group
of deaf-blind people. I say ‘new, ‘ it’s the fifth year we’re working. Everything takes
a lot of time when we work. It’s comprised of Jews and Muslims. It’s interesting to see how easy it is
to work together – Jews and Muslims. I think maybe because the fact
that they’re all deaf-blind is much more bonding
than the fact that takes us apart, the fact that they are Jews and Muslims. Sometimes I think if you had
some deaf-blind people in politics, we might be in a better situation. (Laughter) (Applause) I think today, at the Nalaga’at Theater,
we have two revolutions. We have the revolution, of course,
of the deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people, and we do have
the revolution of the audience. Over 70 people, deaf, blind, or deaf-blind
are working at the center, complaining about their salaries, – real stars – that get upset
if someone upstaged them, even if they don’t see and don’t hear. And the audience seeing
that here is a group of people that had the courage
to leave the life they knew, – because a lot of them
were talking about suicide because they could not accept the fact
that they were becoming blind – and had the courage
to become superstars. The other revolution, of course,
is the fact that the audience sits; and it’s not about deafness
and not about blindness anymore, it’s about being imperfect. And once we connect to the imperfectness,
existing in yourself, you will be much more tolerant
to the imperfectness of other people. I think, even if sometimes
we feel we touch a wall, it’s there just to open a door for change, to the next wall, another door,
for turning disabilities into abilities. I would like you to go out of here
knowing three words in sign language, and the words are from our song,
The Beauty of Creation. Bat Sheva could you please
show us the words? Have a good look. (Bat Sheva signing)
Adina Tal: The beauty of creation. OK, now I would like you… (Applause) No, no, you have to do it, not to see it.
This is not good enough. You’ll sign it with me,
and you’ll say the words. The words are: the beauty of creation. So, one, two, three: the beauty of creation. Not very good, no. I saw some people there not signing. So let’s do it again, so one, two, three: the beauty of creation. Thank you very much. (Applause)


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