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National Theatre of the Deaf debuts new show at Hygienic

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published August 15. 2013 4:00AM
The National Theatre of the Deaf will present a series of free performances at the Hygienic.

It's a very good place to start.

The National Theatre of the Deaf is premiering its latest work, "See Our Signs!," right here in New London.

"Signs" will be staged in a series of free shows at the Hygienic Art Park on Sunday, Tuesday and Aug. 25.

And then the Little Theatre of the Deaf - NTD's children's wing - takes "See Our Signs" on tour.

This is the second summer that NTD is staging productions at the Hygienic, and there's no admission charge, thanks to funding from the New London Water Authority.

NTD Executive Director Betty Beekman says, "We just want to do this for everybody in Connecticut. We're wrapping up our 45th season, and to be able to continue on and to be in Connecticut is such a blessing to us."

She hopes it will become an annual event, too, that tourists can expect when they come to New London in the summer. She notes that, last year, someone from England who was touring the country via train stopped at New London's train station - and saw the NTD show here.

In "See Our Signs!," three actors perform in a combination of sign language and spoken word. The heart of the show deals with tangrams, in which seven shapes are assembled to form other shapes. (The tangram puzzles began in ancient China.) Inspired by those shapes, the NTD group creates stories.

The performance starts and ends with improvisation. For one segment, the actors take suggestions from the audience - an animal, say, or a machine - and invent a piece based on that. For another, they teach signs to the audience.

"It's important for us to use the educational component, even if we're not performing in schools, because that's part of our mission - to educate the public not only about the company but about deaf artists and what we do and how we do it. ... I like to say we entertain but we also educate and enlighten," Beekman says.

NTD developed "See Our Signs!" this spring, during its fourth annual residence at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford. The residency is funded in part by a grant from the Frank Loomis Palmer Foundation.

Last year, NTD moved its main office back to the region, where the organization began, when it was founded by David Hays at the O'Neill. Its new offices are at the Monte Cristo Cottage. The Little Theatre of the Deaf, meanwhile, remains based in West Hartford.

Beekman, who is the child of deaf parents, has been with NTD three different times over the years - the first time back in the beginnings, when it was at the O'Neill.

"I know where we've come from and where we are, and it's nice to have those same roots flourish as we grow," she says.

National Theatre of the Deaf,

10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Aug. 25, Hygienic Art Park, 79 Bank St., New London; "See Our Signs!"; free; (860) 574-9063 (voice), (860) 607-1334 (video phone).

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