Events Calendar

15 Apr
Colloquium: "Spectacular Employment: U.S. Deaf Theatre and Cold War Vocational Rehabilitation, 1967-1977"
Event Type

Lectures, Symposia, Etc.

Topic

Humanities

Target Audience

Faculty, Graduate Students

University Unit
Humanities Center
Subscribe
Google Calendar iCal Outlook

Colloquium: "Spectacular Employment: U.S. Deaf Theatre and Cold War Vocational Rehabilitation, 1967-1977"

 

Patrick McKelvey (Pitt, Theatre Arts) with responses from Kathy M. Newman (Carnegie Mellon University, English) and Jennifer Josten (Pitt, History of Art and Architecture)

 

The performing arts played a crucial role in representing US interests abroad throughout the Cold War. In 1967, the US introduced a new professional theatre company to its foreign policy repertoire: the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD). Founded through a public-private partnership between the US Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre Foundation, the company was an instant success. They performed on Broadway, toured internationally, collaborated with leading artists from the European and American theatrical avantgardes, and shaped the institutional and aesthetic development of professional deaf theatres across the globe. The company’s acclaim derived both from the seeming novelty of this state-supported enterprise and from their use of “sign-mime,” an innovative theatrical adaptation of American Sign Language. But how did a federal agency concerned with rehabilitating disabled Americans for productive employment become interested in deaf theatre? And how would sign-mime serve the interests of the state?

 

This work-in-progress examines the vocational rehabilitation history of NTD between the company’s founding in 1967 and leading actor Bernard Bragg’s State Department-sponsored goodwill tours in 1977. It situates NTD’s touring practices, training initiatives, and cultural exchange programs within the context of OVR’s rehabilitation internationalism, arguing that NTD drew from cultural diplomacy’s momentum to shape disability employment policy internationally in the image of “the American ideal.” It considers the evolution of sign-mime in theory and practice, tracing the form’s reception among hearing critics, deaf spectators, and NTD actors themselves.  In particular, this work addresses how these constituencies worked to assess the relationship between NTD’s formal innovations and those of the world’s first professional deaf theatre company: the Moscow Theatre of Mime and Gesture. Collectively, NTD artists, deaf leaders, and government officials invested sign-mime with the capacity not only to transcend linguistic and national boundaries, but to champion a decidedly American alternative to Soviet ideas about disability, work, and citizenship.

 

Attendees are invited to read "Spectacular Employment: U.S. Deaf Theatre and Cold War Vocational Rehabilitation, 1967-1977" ahead of the discussion.

Thursday, April 15 at 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Virtual Event

Colloquium: "Spectacular Employment: U.S. Deaf Theatre and Cold War Vocational Rehabilitation, 1967-1977"

 

Patrick McKelvey (Pitt, Theatre Arts) with responses from Kathy M. Newman (Carnegie Mellon University, English) and Jennifer Josten (Pitt, History of Art and Architecture)

 

The performing arts played a crucial role in representing US interests abroad throughout the Cold War. In 1967, the US introduced a new professional theatre company to its foreign policy repertoire: the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD). Founded through a public-private partnership between the US Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre Foundation, the company was an instant success. They performed on Broadway, toured internationally, collaborated with leading artists from the European and American theatrical avantgardes, and shaped the institutional and aesthetic development of professional deaf theatres across the globe. The company’s acclaim derived both from the seeming novelty of this state-supported enterprise and from their use of “sign-mime,” an innovative theatrical adaptation of American Sign Language. But how did a federal agency concerned with rehabilitating disabled Americans for productive employment become interested in deaf theatre? And how would sign-mime serve the interests of the state?

 

This work-in-progress examines the vocational rehabilitation history of NTD between the company’s founding in 1967 and leading actor Bernard Bragg’s State Department-sponsored goodwill tours in 1977. It situates NTD’s touring practices, training initiatives, and cultural exchange programs within the context of OVR’s rehabilitation internationalism, arguing that NTD drew from cultural diplomacy’s momentum to shape disability employment policy internationally in the image of “the American ideal.” It considers the evolution of sign-mime in theory and practice, tracing the form’s reception among hearing critics, deaf spectators, and NTD actors themselves.  In particular, this work addresses how these constituencies worked to assess the relationship between NTD’s formal innovations and those of the world’s first professional deaf theatre company: the Moscow Theatre of Mime and Gesture. Collectively, NTD artists, deaf leaders, and government officials invested sign-mime with the capacity not only to transcend linguistic and national boundaries, but to champion a decidedly American alternative to Soviet ideas about disability, work, and citizenship.

 

Attendees are invited to read "Spectacular Employment: U.S. Deaf Theatre and Cold War Vocational Rehabilitation, 1967-1977" ahead of the discussion.

Thursday, April 15 at 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Virtual Event

Topic

Humanities

Target Audience

Faculty, Graduate Students

University Unit
Humanities Center