By James Kennedy, Creative Producer
The Nalaga’at Theater Company is on the move. They’ve been performing Not By Bread Alone without a break since its premiere in 2007, when it was declared by a local paper to be “the most surprising hit of Israeli theatre.” Before they arrive here in Boston April 16, the elevenmember ensemble will perform in Washington, DC, Cleveland and the Perth Festival in Australia. They’ve already brought the production to New York, London and Uijeongbu, South Korea. This is in addition to regular performances in Tel Aviv.
While international audiences are constantly requesting visits from the company, time spent on tour means that they’re away from their usual homethe Nalaga’at Center in Jaffa, Israel. This wouldn’t be that unusual for a traveling theater company, except for the fact that the Nalaga’at Center is a building unlike any other in the entire world. In fact, the more I learn about the Nalaga’at Center, the more I realize how lucky we are that the company is so willing to leave it at all.
“Nalaga’at” is Hebrew for “do touch.” The name was adopted by Adina Tal, a working theatre professional who surprised herself by agreeing to lead a workshop for deaf/blind adults. According to her TED talk, she had never met a Deaf person before. It took a while for her to learn how to connect with her students; after all, theatre is all about communication, but it required a tremendous amount of effort just for these actors to communicate with their director and each other. What, she wondered, could they possibly accomplish?
Researching existing options proved unfruitful. “I was looking up in the internet what happens in the Deaf/Blind theatre world and that was nothing,” Tal says. “There’s a lot of Deaf theatre and a lot of Blind theatre, but no Deaf/Blind theatre, so we had the privilege to invent the wheel.” They rose to the challenge. “We started to work on their dreams, and most of their dreams are similar to our dreams.” By exploring their dreams and creating scenes and moments together, they were able to collectively create their first piece, Light is Heard in ZigZag. The production was an immediate success in Israel, and became the first production that the company would tour internationally.
When the artists returned to Israel, they began to use the process they developed while creating Light is Heard in ZigZag to create their next production, Not By Bread Alone. This new show was certainly unique: Deaf/Blind performers bake bread while sharing stories of their experiences, and then the audience is invited on stage to share the bread and meet the actors. A unique production requires a unique performance space. Fortunately one was waitinga warehouse, with no electricity and no water. It took many months of tireless effort to transform the warehouse into the Nalaga’at Center, but the new home for the company opened in 2007. Not By Bread Alone has been performing at the center continuously since its opening, and the production shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
The Nalaga’at Center is much more than a theatre space, though. Patrons can visit two restaurants: Cafe Kapish, with a staff of entirely deaf waiters, and BlackOut, a pitchblack restaurant with a staff of entirely blind waiters. Over 70 employees work at the Nalaga’at center, almost all of whom are deaf, blind, or deaf/blind. The Center regularly hosts workshops and seminars, and produces, in addition to the ongoing run of Not By Bread Alone, productions for families and children featuring Deaf, Blind, and Deaf/Blind actors.
There is no other arts center like Nalaga’at. Over 200,000 visitors from around the world have attended performances, workshops, and dinners. “This place is not a museum,” says Tal. “Learning, thinking, and doing are a part of our routine.” Visitors are often concerned that they won’t know how to interact with actors and waiters, but learning and exploring the possibilities is why the center wants people to come and experience it for themselves. To prospective visitors, Tal only says “I’m sure you would find a way because we see this everyday.”
Indeed, lives are transformed at Nalaga’at on a daily basis. The center was founded on the belief that “every human has the right to participate in the society he lives in…we can and have to persevere to change our reality.” Those who are fortunate enough to go to the Nalaga’at Center learn this firsthand; thanks to the willingness of the company to visit Boston, we will soon be able to see the unique way they spread this message for ourselves.
Not By Bread Alone will play at the Emerson/Paramount Center Mainstage from Apr 01-06. For more information and tickets, visit our website here.