Israel’s Nalaga’at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble, RespectAbility and White House’s Claudia Gordon join for magic night of culture at the Kennedy Center
Washington, D.C. – In a moving night of theater and exchange, Israel’s famous Nalaga’at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble, RespectAbilityUSA, and the White House’s Claudia Gordon joined together for a night of magic. Nalaga’at is a world famous acting group whose cast consists of a dozen talented deaf-blind actors. RespectAbility is an American non-profit organization devoted to empowering people with disabilities to be valued and respected for the abilities that they do have. Claudia Gordon works at the White House Office of Public Engagement where she serves as the Public Engagement Advisor to the Disability Community. Fully 56 million Americans have disabilities, roughly one in five Americans.
Nagala’at performance group, actors and interpreters, with RespectAbility and Claudia Gordon
Nalaga’at is playing three nights at the Kennedy Center, which is a major honor for any performance organization, but especially so for a troupe with is deaf-blind. Back stage before the performance Adina Tal, their visionary director explained to Claudia Gordon and RespectAbility that early on Nalaga’at was only invited to events for disability groups – but did not go. They waited for two years until they were good enough to be accepted on stage as equals with performers without disabilities. Now they tour the prominent stages of the world.
Also back stage before opening night, the White House’s Claudia Gordon was asked by Nalaga’at actors about her past. Deaf herself, Gordon spoke through an interpreter about her path from being excluded from school in her native Jamaica to moving to the United States where she graduated from law school and has come to work for President Obama. The conversation was a rich and beautiful mix of English, Hebrew, Arabic, sign language and tactile sign language, a kind of sign language done by touching so that people who are deaf-blind can fully communicate. Before we began our conversation each member of the group shook hands with each other so that the deaf-blind actors could literally feel the connection fully with their guests, and vice versa.
RespectAbility’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, “Both back stage and watching the show was a moving opportunity to connect and be inspired by cultural talents. Additionally, on our own team at RespectAbility we are proud to have two very talented members who are hard-of-hearing, as well as self-advocates with other disabilities. For all of us it was inspiring to see the gifts of the actors on stage and in person. This was not a sideshow for people with disabilities – this is an important stage at the Kennedy Center with three sold out nights. It matters.”
RespectAbility works to expand job opportunities for people with disabilities. Likewise, the Nalaga’at Center develops specialized employment frameworks to help deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people work, develop and earn a living like any other person, achieve self-fulfillment, and nurture their unique abilities and talents from a belief that all people are equal and all people are different, and every person has the right to assume responsibility for contributing to society.
Both RespectAbility and Nalaga’at embrace people of different nationalities, religions, and gender, and provide equal opportunity for all to participate in its endeavors and heighten awareness to the population of people with disabilities, and work for the inclusion of people with disabilities in society. Claudia Gordon’s work at the White House has also exemplified these values and goals.
The Kennedy Center performance included stand-out performers by actors Mark Yaroski, Itzik Hanuna and Genia Shatsky. The entire cast, who at times move to cues driven through the vibrations of drums, and at other times from cues through gentle touches from their sighted and hearing interpreters who appear largely silently onstage while dressed in black so they stay in the background. The play was performed in Hebrew but had both sign language interpretation and live captions so that the audience could follow in entirety. Following the show the audience was invited on stage to share bread, baked as a part of the show, and to meet the actors. For more information to www.RespectAbilityUSA.org or http://www.nalagaat.org.il/home.php.