Robert Panara Discusses the Origins of Deaf Theatre

Length: 2:11

Deaf Theatre originated with "community theatre." The first evidence of this was in 1865 when the Clerc (name sign U handshape on the cheek then fingerspells) Clerc Literary Society was founded in Philadelphia. At that time, literary societies were very popular, not just in the Deaf-World but of course in the broader society as well. People would give lectures discussing books and plays and such even at times performing short works. But within the Deaf-World, those skits and stories were mostly original works stories "of their own."

In the "Tales From a Clubroom" play, we see how many times they suspend the business of the club to call folks forward by saying "come on up here and do your thing" to perform or do a skit. This was a very commonplace occurrence in Deaf clubs, Deaf schools, and literary societies of the Deaf and such.

A wonderful group was founded in Washington, DC by the name of Hughes Memorial Theatre, which was named in honor of Dr. Frederick Hughes (name sign U handshape on the chin). Hughes was a professor at Gallaudet College. Bernard Bragg here "kiss-fist" him/thought the world of that man, Little Teddy (F. Hughes). He was one of the most exceptional sign actors Ive ever seen in all my life. He was a beautiful signer. He shared this gift of sign acting and excellence in the classroom as well.

Hughes was the one to establish dramatic courses at Gallaudet and the program grew from there. He directed many plays, one of which was "Arsenic and Old Lace" that went on to be performed on Broadway.