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NTID Performing Arts was established in the Fall of 1974, with the opening of the Institute's new permanent buildings, as integral part of the Institute's curriculum following the success of the student drama club founded by Dr. Robert Panara in 1969.
Originally named the Experimental Educational Theatre (EET), NTID Performing Arts offers a comprehensive curriculum of theatre courses and produces 6 productions and one outreach tour per season.
We are very proud of our student's accomplishments and our programs. Our success is demonstrated by the fact that, while we have no major in theatre, historically, the majority of Deaf theatre professionals have been NTID students or faculty. They have appeared, and continue to appear in national and regional tv commercials, network and cable television programs, major motion pictures and independent films, national and international theatre tours, Broadway, regional theatres, and international theatre festivals. Our programs and our people have been honored with numerous awards from theatre organizations to government agencies to corporations and private foundations.
Classes are taught by a dedicated group of award-winning theatre professionals who teach a variety of classes in the area of performance and technical theatre,
NTID Performing Arts offers a special certificate in performing arts that documents the academic training students receive while actively participating in Performance or Technical Theatre activities.
NTID Performing Arts has collaborated in the past with the RIT's School of Film and Animation (SOFA) that provides a theatre track within their 4 year, BFA degree program.
Each season several productions are produced in the Panara Theatre and 1510 Lab Theatre. These productions are presented simultaneously by Deaf actors who sign the lines and hearing actors who speak the lines.
Every aspect of an NTID production is accessible to both Deaf and hearing people: back stage, onstage, or in the house. The following sections will give you an idea of how we produce this unique form of theatre.
There is an enormous amount of communication and coordination taking place backstage during any theatre production. Traditionally this communication--calling light cues, actor's entrances, and so forth--is done verbally through headsets. Since our backstage crews are a mixture of Deaf and hearing people, all our communication takes place visually through the use of video cameras and portable televisions. These are set in backstage areas, dressing rooms, the green room, and in the sound and lighting booths to ensure everyone in the production has immediate access to what's happening onstage and backstage. Additionally, we may use a visual cueing system for "blind" entrances, ie: a Deaf actor may need to enter from behind a closed door on a specific cue line from the stage. If the actor cannot see the line, the stage manager will call their cue by turning on a light that's hidden from audience view. We tend to set 2 lights above such a doorway - yellow for "ready", green for "go".
Safety is of prime concern in our productions, and as such, any potentially dangerous activity has plenty of visual warning through signs, lights, and glow tape. For example, any time weights are being loaded for the fly system, or any time lights are flown in or out during set up or strike, a red "ambulance" light is turned on which gives a visual reminder for people to keep their heads up and eyes open.
Both our audience members and our actors have to be able to clearly see the sign language performance. This has an impact on how the director blocks the show (the movement on stage); how the designers create the look (lighting can't be too dark, costumes and scenery can't be too busy and conflict with the signs), and the script translator has to make appropriate adaptations that are culturally and linguistically accurate (a vocal accent will have to be translated to a visual characterization, or an auditory-based joke may have to changed to a visual equivalent). These are the things that make our form of theatre unique and cause our imaginations to soar. It's not that our form of theatre is any less--it is just different. Just as an artist chooses to express themselves in one form or another--painting vs sculpture vs drawing--doesn't mean the work is any less effective, just different technique and styles.
We also have to be concerned about how we incorporate Deaf and hearing actors working together, both during the rehearsal process and the final production. Communication and sight lines are key. Depending on the show, sometimes all actors appear on stage, and in some cases voice actors and sign actors appear in different places. For example, in our production of WEST SIDE STORY, voice actors and Deaf actors were mixed together in their respective gangs; but in our production of SEE HOW THEY RUN, Deaf actors played in a set representing a house onstage while the voice actors performed in a booth representing a 1940's radio show set to the side of the stage.
Sight lines are key to the accessibility and success of our productions. Both the Robert F. Panara Theatre and the 1510 Lab Theatre were designed with sight lines as priority. The Panara Theatre has a fairly steep rake so that even people in the last row are pretty close to the stage enabling them to more easily read finger spelling and see the actor's facial expressions. The stage is thrust out so the action can be played closer to the audience, and most sets incorporate several levels so that it is more visually interesting and gives the director more space to create within.