Bernard Bragg: In Memory of Visual Vernacular

d8T937th3Qg.jpgBernard Bragg lived a long, wonderful life filled with happiness, imagination and a zest to change how we understand American Sign Language as the language that we understand it today. Star Trek, it was Spock who understood the meaning of verbal vernacular; yet, it was Bernard Bragg whom pioneered and understood the meaning of visual vernacular.

I was first exposed to Bernard Bragg work while studying at University of Oregon and learned that body language played as much as a role in communication as did with American Sign Language; Bernard taught me the concept of facial express, body language and using gestures as a mean of communication.

Bernard changed how we view and express ourselves in American Sign Language by incorporating a new form of art: mime. When he was invited by Marcel Marceau in 1956 to study mime in France, that was the moment that changed his life forever. Bernard Bragg would be the first American who learned how to mime under the great Marcel Marceau and brought it back to America to share with all American.

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I’m sharing one of the most important memories I have had— with you today. Between May 20-23, 2004, I first met Bernard Bragg at one of the first Deaf film festivals in Tampa. This picture shows the VERY first time I met him when I was 24 years old. As you can see, I was glued to Bernard Bragg. I so desperately wanted to learn all that I could from him. That very weekend, he was even willing to watch my thesis film from Gallaudet, “Fantasy.” And Bernard gave me feedback! I ate it up, and looked for every opportunity to grow from that. Bernard did the SAME thing again for me with other projects I did. I’m so grateful for Bernard’s support of my career moving forward. From my interpretation of Bernard’s mentality— he just wanted to have a much stronger world in theater, film, entertainment for all deaf actors, directors and writers. Rest assured, I’m keeping the fight going. Bernard Bragg was a private person, but he was not private about his ardent support towards the Deaf community. Bernard would show up EVERYWHERE to watch all of the shows, show up to all of the major Deaf entertainment events. I can only hope to continue that presence with the Deaf community as well. Thank you for all that you have taught us. Live on, Bernard, in all of our memories. #RestInPeaceBernardBragg #DeafTalent [Image shows a table in a restaurant, with Bernard Bragg, Darren Frazier, 24-year old Jules Dameron, David Pierce, Tracey Salaway, Gary Schwartz, Liz Tannebaum and Josh Flanders chatting, then in the third picture is just of Bernard Bragg himself smiling]

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His next defining moment in history is when he helped found the National Theater for the Deaf in 1967. Since the conception of National Theater for Deaf, the company experience over 150 national tours, performed in all fifty states, and has toured all over the world. Bernard Bragg helped National Theater of the Deaf earn their place in theatrical history as the oldest, still producing (amazingly), and still touring company in the United States.

Gallaudet University Theatre called Bernard Bragg, “The most famous Gallaudet theatre alum of them all, the father of American Deaf theatre…Without him to forge ahead in the then unknown during an era where the expectations and rights of Deaf people to dignity and equality were far from recognized, much less guaranteed, there would be no National Theatre of the Deaf, and there would be no #deaftalent movement hitting critical mass”. It goes without saying that the National Theatre of the Deaf has created, inspired, and produced many of the famous deaf actors, actress, producers and directors we have today.

Bernard Bragg loved sharing his wisdom and experience with younger actors, actress, producers and directors. Thousands of followers and lovers of Bernard Bragg have gone to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share their stories in how they remember him the best. For many, they remember him best as a teacher; for others, they remember him as an actor.

For me, I will always remember him as someone who loved theater as whom coined one of the most awesome terminologies in the world: visual vernacular.

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