In 1967, six people bought tickets to see the first performance of the National Theatre of the Deaf, most of them out of curiosity. Now, more than forty-five years and one Tony Award later, NTD has brought audiences to their feet across the globe and received rave reviews from New York to New Delhi.
In the 1950’s, Dr. Edna Simon Levine, a psychologist working in the area of deafness, formed the concept of a professional company of deaf performers. Arthur Penn and Anne Bancroft, the director and leading actress of Broadway's The Miracle Worker, were approached with the idea and, in turn, brought it to their colleague, Broadway set and lighting designer, David Hays. Struck by the beauty and strength of Sign Language on stage, Mr. Hays persisted in his vision of bringing this powerful form of expression to theatre audiences.
A federal grant in 1965 from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare provided planning funds. In the spring of 1967, a national television program was aired which explored the experimental idea of NTD. Working with David Hays and Broadway professionals on this groundbreaking television program was Bernard Bragg, NTD’s first actor and already a professional actor. Bernard Bragg was instrumental in helping shape the development and style of the new company. With additional funds from the U.S. Office of Education, NTD began the annual Professional Training School that summer and held its first public performance at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The company went on their first national tour in the fall from a home base it shared with The O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. The following year, The Little Theatre of the Deaf was created for young audiences and continues to tour to this day.
In 1983, NTD moved to its own home in Chester, Connecticut. In 2000 the company moved to Hartford, and four years later made its home on the campus of the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut. In 2012 the company returned to its original home with headquarters at the O’Neill Theater Center and maintains a satellite office on the campus of the American School for the Deaf.
In 1994, the National and Worldwide Deaf Theatre Conference had its inaugural session to facilitate communication, develop techniques, and encourage the work of deaf playwrights from the forty-plus theatres of the deaf from around the world, which the NTD was instrumental in founding.
The company has enjoyed over 150 national tours with its National Theatre of the Deaf and Little Theatre of the Deaf touring companies. The NTD has toured to all fifty states, performed in thirty-three countries and appeared on each continent. NTD has earned its place in theatrical history as the oldest, continually-producing touring theatre company in the United States.
NTD has received critical acclaim for its adaptations of classic literature (Chekhov, Voltaire, Homer, Moliere, Ibsen, and Puccini) as well as for original works by the Company. NTD has put its signature on such creations as a magical adaptation of Phillip de Broca's film, King of Hearts, and Ophelia. NTD has collaborated with artists such as Chita Rivera, Jason Robards, Arvin Brown, Bill Irwin, Peter Sellers, Tetsuko Kuroyangi, Colleen Dewhurst, and the Pilobolus Dance Theatre. NTD's teleplay of "One More Spring", produced with Connecticut Public Television and The Learning Channel, was nominated for an ACE Award.
NTD productions provide the opportunity for the majority hearing community to be inspired and amazed by the skills and artistry of the minority deaf community. Presentations by NTD do more than just make theatre accessible to the deaf, they provide a platform for the deaf to share a cultural and social event with hearing members of the audience. This sharing promotes pride in the artistry and culture of the deaf. NTD performances expose all audiences to arts. To hearing people in particular, it provides the expression of artists from a culture most have never experienced. The impact of NTD is realized nationwide and around the world through its principal product: theatre. This continues to be our best vehicle for breaking down the stereotypes that exist regarding minorities.