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Bernard Bragg, Who Confirmed the Manner for Deaf Actors, Dies at 90


Bernard Bragg, a trailblazer for deaf performers who in 1967 grew to become a founding father of the Nationwide Theater of the Deaf in Connecticut, died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 90.

The actress Marlee Matlin, a longtime good friend, confirmed his loss of life.

Mr. Bragg, who was born deaf to deaf dad and mom, started carving out a performing profession within the late 1950s after learning with the mime Marcel Marceau. He appeared at golf equipment within the San Francisco space just like the hungry i, working in a mode of his personal invention he referred to as signal mime, which mixed components of American Signal Language with the instruments of mime.

Within the mid-1960s he joined up with Edna Simon Levine, a psychologist who labored with the deaf and for a while had been desirous about knowledgeable firm of deaf actors, and David Hays, a set and lighting designer. Collectively they shaped the Nationwide Theater of the Deaf, which gave its first public efficiency in 1967 at Wesleyan College in Middletown, Conn.

The corporate received a particular Tony Award in 1977.

Mr. Bragg carried out with it for 10 years, together with in a number of Broadway exhibits, earlier than changing into a visiting professor at his alma mater, Gallaudet College in Washington, which serves deaf and hard-of-hearing college students. A 1979 article in The Washington Put up referred to as him “the man who invented theater as a professional career for the deaf.”

One who adopted the profession path that Mr. Bragg opened up was Ms. Matlin, an Oscar winner for the 1986 movie “Children of a Lesser God.”

“I have known Mr. Bragg since I was 8 years old, when I took a class which he was teaching at Chicago’s Center for Deafness,” she stated by e mail. “Always curious and always with questions, particularly because he was the first Deaf person I had met who was an actor, I remember asking him, ‘Can I be an actor like you?’ To which he responded with a warm smile, ‘Yes, you can!’ That stuck with me.”

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In his memoir, revealed in 1989, Mr. Bragg recalled by chance discovering he was deaf when he was a boy.

Bernard Nathan Bragg was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 27, 1928, to Wolf and Jennie (Stoloff) Bragg. His father had created an beginner appearing group for deaf performers.

With deaf dad and mom and a deaf aunt and uncle dwelling in the identical constructing, Mr. Bragg was surrounded by signal language. In “Lessons in Laughter: An Autobiography of a Deaf Actor” (1989), he recalled the revelatory second when, as a little bit boy, he was despatched to the shop with a word and cash to purchase his mom cigarettes.

“I gave the coin and the note to the proprietor and he looked at me and started to move his mouth,” Mr. Bragg wrote. “He did not sign at all, and I became visibly disconcerted by the strange movements of his mouth under his heavy mustache.”

The person learn the word and gave him the cigarettes, and he went again to his fifth-floor house.

“It was thus that I made the discovery of my deafness, all by myself,” Mr. Bragg wrote.

He graduated from the New York Faculty for the Deaf in 1947 and enrolled at what was then Gallaudet Faculty, learning theater there and appearing in class performs. Although he loved performing, there was no apparent profession path in present enterprise for a deaf particular person; as an alternative he took a instructing job on the California Faculty for the Deaf in Berkeley, often performing skits and directing small exhibits at conventions and golf equipment for the deaf. Then, in 1956, he made a life-changing journey to see Marceau carry out in San Francisco.

Marceau’s capacity to carry the gang’s consideration with out phrases so struck Mr. Bragg that he sought Marceau out after the present and, with a word, launched himself and requested the place he may research mime. Marceau requested him to return the subsequent day with a pattern of his work, which he did: He carried out two unique sketches, one wherein he performed Noah and all of the animals on the ark, the opposite wherein he depicted all of the devices of an orchestra. Marceau invited him to check with him in France.

He spent the summer season of 1956 doing simply that, and when he returned to the USA he started performing in nightclubs, faculties and universities within the San Francisco space. His routines had been usually a mixture of set items and improvisation.

“He told me a funny story about one night in the hungry i,” Michael A. Schwartz, a longtime good friend who met Mr. Bragg when he participated within the Nationwide Theater of the Deaf’s summer season faculty in 1976, stated by e mail. “When Bernard finished his act and exited the stage, the audience applauded, but the manager ran out on the stage and said, ‘Stop, stop applauding, it doesn’t matter, Bernard is deaf, he can’t hear your applause.’ When someone told Bernard, he ran back to the stage and mimed, ‘I am deaf, but with my eyes, I see your applause. Keep applauding.’ ”

From 1958 to 1961 Mr. Bragg had his personal tv present on KQED in San Francisco, “The Quiet Man,” on which he would carry out mimed tales, amongst different issues. He additionally continued to show and in 1959 earned a grasp’s diploma in particular schooling at San Francisco State College.

Mr. Bragg moved again east in 1967 to assist begin the Nationwide Theater of the Deaf. Its fund-raising efforts got a lift that 12 months when NBC broadcast an episode of the sequence “Experiment in Television” referred to as “Theater of the Deaf,” that includes Mr. Bragg and others who would turn into core members of the Nationwide Theater. The group mounted nationwide excursions and appeared a number of instances on Broadway within the late 1960s.

In 1973 Mr. Bragg was an artist in residence with the Moscow Theater of Mimicry and Gesture, and in 1977 he went on a global tour sponsored by the State Department and different teams, showing in 25 nations.

His tasks after leaving the Nationwide Theater included serving as a technical adviser for the 1979 tv film “ … And Your Name Is Jonah,” a few deaf boy who’s wrongly labeled intellectually disabled. He additionally appeared within the movie.

He leaves no instant survivors.

In 2014 two college students on the Rochester Institute of Expertise, Jean Pietrowski and Allison Thompson, curated an exhibition there that centered on Mr. Bragg’s profession.

“Watching him sign,” Ms. Pietrowski stated on the time, “is like a small religious experience. The way he moves is so expressive, you can’t help but be entranced.”

That expressiveness remained with him even in his ultimate months. Mr. Bragg made a cameo look in March in an article in The New York Times about immigrant employees in the USA who fill low-wage, low-skill jobs. The article centered on one such employee, Irma Mangayan, from the Philippines, a private care aide within the assisted dwelling middle the place Mr. Bragg occupied a room.

“In Room 411,” the article stated, “she improvised signal language to speak with Bernard Bragg, an 89-year-old who achieved fame a long time in the past as a deaf actor.

“Mr. Bragg, requested what he considered Ms. Mangayan, pointed to her, positioned his arms over his coronary heart and smiled lovingly. He then flapped his arms to recommend she was an angel.”



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Updated: November 2, 2018 — 4:41 pm

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