Founded in 1967, NTD has a long and rich history as a national and international performing arts organization. NTD pioneered a dual language theatre concept, creating a hybrid of American Sign Language with spoken English that has been seen in all fifty states in the U.S., in thirty-three countries, and on all seven continents throughout the world. Over its 50+ years, NTD has appeared and performed on Broadway, the Disney Channel, on Sesame Street, at the White House, and before luminaries and dignitaries the world over. NTD operates in Washington, DC both locally and with a national focus, and is always reimagining itself and how it supports the greater Deaf theatre ecosystem.
National Theatre of the Deaf has a proud history.
The National Theatre of the Deaf has performed in all 50 states and in 33 countries, touching down on all seven continents. NTD actors have performed on the Disney Channel, on Sesame Street, at the White House, on Broadway, and for royalty the world over. The Tony Award-winning NTD was the first company to tour South Africa when sanctions were lifted and the first company from the West to tour China when relations were restored. NTD also represented the United States at the Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival and at the Deaflympics in Taiwan
The idea for the National Theatre of the Deaf came about through a Broadway production called The Miracle Worker in the late 1950’s. The Miracle Worker was based on the story of Helen Keller.
The star of the show, Anne Bancroft, and the Lighting Designer, David Hays, were captivated by the idea that sign language had a place on the world’s stage as a performing art form.
After the show closed, David Hays continued to pursue this dream and after nearly ten years was able to secure funding from the U.S. Department of Education and launched the National Theatre of the Deaf. NTD also founded a training program in 1967 and children’s theatre company, Little Theatre of the Deaf, in 1968.
After federal funding ceased in 2006, NTD focused on programming for children. Little Theatre of the Deaf toured nationally until 2017, offering shows and workshops primarily for K-12 audiences. Generous funding from the State of Connecticut, foundations, and individual donors enabled NTD to survive these difficult financial times.
With the company’s 50th anniversary approaching, board members and interested community members began advocating for an NTD renaissance. In 2020, the company split into two separate organizations, NTD and Connecticut Deaf Theatre. NTD moved to Washington, D.C., to better position itself as a national organization.
Since 2020, the NTD board has developed a new mission to guide its future work. The board is also is working towards fiscal sustainability and undertaking long term strategic planning. With these steps, NTD aims to successfully implement its new mission, to explore what it means to be Deaf in America, through arts-focused initiatives and stories about us, by us, through us.
As NTD grows its presence and strengthens relationships through our work in the local community, we acknowledge that NTD makes its home on land that was once inhabited by the Nacotchtank people or Anacostan people, who were the original caretakers of the land. We recognize that the Nacotchtank, their numbers decimated from war and disease, merged with the Piscataway tribe, and were later forcibly removed or killed by English settlers. We pay our respects to the Nacotchtank, the Piscataway, their ancestors and descendants, and the wisdom of the land and those who walked it and acknowledge that they walk still with us today.
In our work as activists, advocates, and artists, we commit to caring for this land, the people that inhabit it, and elevating awareness of these and other peoples and stories that inspire growth, learning, and action. We commit to our antiracist work to dismantle the system of white supremacy that lives in and around us, and to repair the harm caused by it. We commit to ensuring that NTD is an inclusive space, and that we, both as an organization and the individuals that make it, are continually evolving and sparking evolution in others.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)