Bernard Bragg, who founded the National Theatre of the Deaf with Edna Simon Levin and David Hays in the late 1960s, died in Los Angeles, California, October 29, according to the New York Times. He was 90 years old.
Bragg was born September 27, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York. Born to deaf parents, Bragg grew up learning sign language, and attended the New York School for the Deaf. He studied theatre at Gallaudet College, where he later taught. He began his teaching career at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. He began studying mime with Marcel Marceau in 1956 and began performing around California while maintaining his position as an educator.
From 1959–1961 he had his own television show on San Francisco’s public television station KQED, The Quiet Man, making him America’s first deaf professional performer.
Bragg was also featured on NBC Experiment in Television, a one-hour program centering on Deaf actors in 1967. The broadcast also included original Children of a Lesser God star Phyllis Frelich, as well as Audree Norton, Ralph White, Howard Palmer, and Lou Fant, and marked the first time Deaf actors were represented on television conversing and performing in sign language. The broadcast was critical in securing funding for the National Theatre for the Deaf.
A co-founder of NTD, Bragg performed with the group for a decade, including Broadway appearances in repertory stagings of Tyger! Tyger! and other burnings; The Critic; and On the Harmfulness of Tobacco in 1969; and Sgnarelle and Songs from Milkwood in 1970. Opportunities for deaf actors in deaf roles increased dramatically in the years following the company’s founding as NTD performed around the world.
The National Theatre of the Deaf was awarded a Special Tony Award in 1977.
Bragg returned to Gallaudet as an artist in residence in 1978. He served as a consultant and also appeared in the groundbreaking 1979 film My Name Is Jonah—about a young deaf boy whose hearing parents struggle to educate him after he is misdiagnosed as mentally disabled.
He published Lessons in Laughter: The Autobiography of a Deaf Actor in 1989.