Historically, deaf theater in the United States was little more than signed skits, jokes, and pantomimes until the establishment of the National Theater of the Deaf in 1967. A niche-based or culture-based theater is defined traditionally by its literature, the play script, and its intended audience. Universal cultural themes might then extend to a broader audience. However, these traits played a much lesser role in the development of deaf theater, which is unique because it is usually defined by its physical method of performance. Plays performed in American Sign Language (ASL), regardless of their source, content, or intended audience, are said to delineate deaf theater. Spoken language scripts are translated into ASL, a process the reverse of that found in other niche-based drama. Deaf theater is usually performed simultaneously in two languages, manual ASL and spoken English. The development and proliferation of deaf theater reflects first the joining of spoken and manual languages and then the struggle to separate them. As the twenty-first century dawned, deaf theater began to embody the ASL literature of the deaf culture.
Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through the 1960’s, deaf Americans gathered together at deaf clubs to enjoy games, sports, and fellowship. Their activities often included a variety of spontaneously performed skits, deaf folklore, anecdotes, and unique sign language forms such as ABC stories that require the hand...
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