The Life of Bernard Bragg

Among deaf people, it’s well understood that deafness can’t stop a determined soul from becoming anything he or she wants to be. But there is, perhaps, a special place in the deaf community for those in the entertainment industry. Actresses like Marlee Matlin, for example, prove they can even do those things that everyone once believed impossible. But did you know that one of the most accomplished deaf people in entertainment is a playwright and director? Bernard Bragg is without a doubt one of the foremost men in the theater world – and a founder of the National Theater for the Deaf, among many other accomplishments.

Early Life

In 1928, when Bragg was born, deafness, deaf people, and deaf culture were all much different than they are today. The deaf community was still facing daily discrimination, and deaf education was nowhere near as advanced as it is now. Still, the young Bragg, living on Metropolitan Street in Brooklyn, found himself enamored of the theater. His father Wolf, an actor and manager, encouraged him all the way. At Gaullaudet College, Bragg was trained in theatrical arts and won prizes for poetry. In the fifteen years after graduation, he managed deaf education at the California School for the Deaf, and was active in the deaf community, performing at the Los Angeles Club for the Deaf. But it was not until 1956, when he met legendary mime Marcel Marceau, that his professional path was set.


Bragg went to Paris to study mime with Marceau. When he returned, he was transformed. Not letting his deafness stop him for a moment, he became a revered mime whose tours carried him as far as Europe. In 1961, he was contacted by psychologist Dr. Edna Levine, who wanted to create the first troupe of deaf-only actors and actresses. Although this did not work out at first, it was a watershed moment in deaf culture: it inspired Bragg, who teamed up with set designer David Hays to establish the National Theater for the Deaf. Bragg and Hays worked together to bring news of the Theater to an NBC special despite stiff opposition, starting a new wave of deaf education in both American Sign Language and theater. On the special, actors signed a scene from “All The Way Home.”


The NBC performance led to an amazing flood of public support for the new Theater, and that resulted in critical funding that the project needed to go forward. It began ten incredibly fruitful years of theatrical work for Bragg that gave him a permanent place in deaf culture. His star was in the ascendant, and he achieved awards and posts including acting as official artist-in-residence at the Theater of Mimicry and Gesture in Moscow. In 1977 he departed NTD, and began an amazing “third act” that saw him perform in 25 countries. He began writing plays, continued to teach, and wrote a critically acclaimed biography. At the time of this writing, he continues to teach, write, and perform and is one of the most prolific people, hearing or otherwise, in theater, cinema, and other arts. His estate will continue to support the signed arts on stage, screen, and in society long after his pen is at rest.

Would you like to discover more about this fascinating performer? Read on below.