Deaf Night at the Theatre

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Deaf Night at the Theatre seeks to make the theatre experience 100% accessible to our Deaf audience with interpreters in the Box Office, at concessions, throughout the Lobby, and interpreting the show. As a part of this outreach effort, we also strive to educate our hearing patrons about the Deaf experience and many patrons express how much they have enjoyed watching the interpreters as a part of their experience.

These kinds of events bring our community together and are a central part of the Clarence Brown’s outreach efforts. More information on Deaf Night at the Theatre including information on how you can get involved is below.  You can also check out this spotlight from WBIR’s Live at Five at Four.

This season we will offer two Deaf Nights at the Theatre – A Christmas Carol – Sunday, December 4, 2016 at 7:30pm and Around the World in 80 Days, Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at 7:30pm. These special events are produced through a partnership with UT’s Center on Deafness and are designed to be fully accessible for members of the Deaf community with over a dozen interpreters stationed throughout the facility and two teams interpreting the production. Patrons ordering single tickets who need interpreted section seating should contact the Box Office (865) 974.5161 as this is not available online.

The holidays bring us many time honored traditions. One that many look forward to is Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol performed at the Clarence Brown Theatre.


How is Deaf Night at the Theatre different?

From the moment you enter the theatre you will see a lot more staff and volunteers.  Interpreters greet patrons at the door, manage our Will Call at the Box Office, serve concessions, and assist each of our Ushers. Our goal is to make the theatre as accessible for the Deaf Community as it is for our other patrons with interpreters stationed at every point throughout the Lobby.

Inside the theatre you will see two sets of interpreters bringing the actors words to life in American Sign Language (ASL). ASL translates both the spoken word and the emotional subtext of the actor’s voice into a physical language. Two sets of interpreters are required for these special events to ensure that all of our Deaf audience can watch the action of the play and simultaneously “hear” the show.


Deaf Culture and ASL American Sign Language Signs for ASL

Deaf culture describes the social norms (beliefs, behavior, customs, art, history, traditions, etc.) and the use of sign language as the primary means of communication for those who are affected by deafness. Cultural identity in the Deaf community does not come from the extent of hearing loss and is not automatic with a medical diagnosis. What defines a member of the Deaf community, rather, is one’s own sense of identity and involvement in the community.

As a cultural label, the word “deaf” is written with a capital “D” while as a medical term, deaf is not a capitalized word. Those who identify with Deaf culture are commonly referred to as “big D Deaf.”  Medically “deafness” is the inability to sense sound and is seen as a deficit or disability. In Deaf culture, deafness is merely a difference, not a deficit.

American Deaf culture is deeply rooted in the use of ASL as the primary means of communication. ASL has its own, unique sentence structure and grammar. Linguistically, ASL is a rich, complex, complete, and natural visual-spatial language. The body and space around the body are used to communicate the physical and the abstract. Mouth and eyebrow movements are essential grammatical features.


How can I help?

Whether it’s working as one of our ushers, sponsoring a special event, becoming one of the Clarence Brown’s donors, or even taking a class in ASL here at UT, there are numerous ways to get involved. Our Deaf Night at the Theatre events involve over 25 volunteers and financial support from a number of organizations—including our primary partner for this event UT’s Center on Deafness.

If you’d like to help, we’d love to talk with you more! Just call the Box Office at 865.974.5161 or send us an email at box_office@utk.edu.


Deaf and the Theatre: Did you know?

  • Gallaudet University was the first formal deaf theatre organization and remained the only one for a long time.
  • The National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) put on their first performance in 1967 for an audience of 6 people. Today—more than forty years and one Tony Award later—NTD has received rave reviews from New York to New Delhi.
  • New York Deaf Theatre was founded 1979.
  • A community-based theatre, Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles is probably the best known independent group today. Founded in 1991, Deaf West Theatre, Inc. productions feature deaf and hearing actors working together to tell stories in ASL and spoken English.
  • National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) founded its theatre department under the direction of Dr. Robert Panara in 1969. They continue to produce both “classic” and original productions.They now offer a comprehensive curriculum of theatre courses and perform multiple productions per season.
  • The play “Children of a Lesser God” (1980) played on Broadway and won a Tony Award. It ran for 877 performances and in 1986 was adapted into a movie starring deaf actress Marlee Matlin. Matlin became the youngest to ever win an Oscar for Best Actress.