Posts Tagged ‘intermedia’

Visual Theatre

The journey to create a visual theatre does not exclusively belong to deaf people or any other special group. Living on the fringe of the arts creates a rarefied place that a wide variety of artists, hearing and deaf, have gone to visit. Part of the artistic motivation to explore essentially connects to the human need to express visually across language and cultural boundaries the issues and concerns that need to be conveyed without the hindrance of text. Deaf Theatre developed from a natural tendency for deaf people to seek a visual means of expression. Visual theatre, when used by hearing artists, is motivated by other potential areas of need.

I wonder if part of the drive towards visual theatre, by hearing artists, is simply a response to the deluge of incoming information. By constantly being bombarded with verbal information there may be a point when an artist simply wants to escape into creative work that responds to a nonverbal part of the brain or creative process for these artists. Can hearing artists and deaf artists, coming from two different perspectives provide new insights into the process of creating visual work?  This is something to ponder and see if there is a way to follow this trend towards a conclusion that is helpful to this new performing arts approach in the 21st century. One organization that is worked hard to support this concept was Quest 4 Arts especially through their festival activities that tended to occur every two years in the Baltimore, Maryland area.

One approach to understanding visual theatre is to consider the term “intermedia” which was developed over a period of years by Higgins in an attempt to help understand new kinds of performance art that began to emerge after the 1960’s

Intermedia chart

In its current form, American Deaf Theatre is language dependent. Internationally other Deaf theatres focus on the non-manual aspects of performance.  These types of stage performances rely upon gesture, mime, and physical movement along with the minimalization or absence of formal sign language. This helps Deaf theatres circumvent issues of accessibility. It reduces the need for audiences to understand sign language or the spoken language of that country.  Interpreters or additional hearing actors are not needed to communicate the intent of these productions.  Actors, deaf or hearing, can be present on stage with an equitable status and each actor uniquely contributes to the overall success of the production.

Earlier in the 20th century American Deaf Theatre, especially the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD), was an innovative leader in establishing the idea that there could be professional Deaf Theatre that could function successfully and profitably in mainstream society.  During numerous tours, nationally and internationally, NTD inspired the establishment of other Deaf theatres on a global scale.  Today, many of these Deaf Theatres, originally inspired by NTD, continue to flourish while NTD struggles to survive in its 50th year of existence.

To move towards a more visual American Deaf Theatre will require innovation and originality that partially derives from earlier efforts to develop the performance aspects of sign language. Bernard Bragg, an early innovator in this area, developed Visual Vernacular based on the non-manual features of American Sign Language and use of specific cinematic techniques that are complementary to ASL during a performance.  Use of body shifting from ASL, closeup, long shorts, slow and fast motion movements from cinema, to name a few examples, were merged to create a visual method of performing with sign language.  His work was intended to build upon the visual elements inherent in mime, gesture, and physical movement to create a vivid visual experience than what could be experienced by watching performances using these individual techniques in isolation.

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