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Lessons in Laughter

The Autobiography of a Deaf Actor

Bernard Bragg, as signed to Eugene Bergman

Publication Year: 1989

To succeed as an actor is a rare feat. To succeed as a deaf actor is nothing short of amazing. Lessons in Laughter is the story of Bernard Bragg and his astonishing lifelong achievements in the performing arts. Born deaf of deaf parents, Bernard Bragg has won international renown as an actor, director, playwright, and lecturer. Lessons in Laughter recounts in stories that are humorous, painful, touching, and outrageous, the growth of his dream of using the beauty of sign language to act. He starred in his own television show “The Quiet Man,” helped found The National Theatre of the Deaf, and traveled worldwide to teach his acting methods.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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pp. vi

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pp. vii

I am a storyteller. I don't write stories, I perform them. The very telling of stories is what fascinates me because it involves an audience—a live one. More often than not, the telling can be what makes a story a story—what a story is meant to be—what it has got to be. The facts of a story alone are never completely satisfactory; it is the meshing of the facts...


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pp. ix

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pp. x-xii

Hearing people frequently ask me to explain what constitutes deaf culture. Now I can direct them to this engrossing autobiographical montage of stories told in sign language by America's leading deaf theater artist, Bernard Bragg, and rendered into English with great brio by Eugene Bergman, Lessons in Laughter is about deaf culture and it is...

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pp. xiii

Although the incidents retold in this narrative are authentic, the names of a few of the characters and places have been changed in the interest of confidentiality. One person in particular, Dorothy S. Miles, asked that her real name be used. Also, a word on the translation. The ....

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ONE. The Stage Is Set

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pp. 1-33

As I was checking into the Warwick hotel in New York city in the fall of 1978, I glanced sideways and noticed that Sally Struthers was waiting to sign the register too. Behind her stood Jeff Bravin, and he was surrounded by the television crew who had just arrived from Hollywood. We waved at each other. The crowd...

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TWO. The Rehearsal

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pp. 34-72

Wearing the short-visored buff-and-blue cap embroidered with the word "RAT," as behooved a preparatory student, I introduced myself to Fred Collins, the president of the Drama Club, and told him I wanted to play the leading part in Liliom. He looked me up and down as I explained to him about my theatrical experience, about my father being the manager and director of an amateur deaf theater group in New York....

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THREE. Tryouts

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pp. 73-110

I traveled to California in style in the brand-new 1952 Dodge of Don Bullock, one of my classmates. He and I and three other college friends were traveling West together. The moment I sat down in the car, it took off. I stuck my head out the window to wave good-bye to Mother, Father, and Aunt Lena....

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FOUR. The Premiere

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pp. 111-135

In the summer of 1966, on the very day school closed, a letter from David Hays caught me unawares. As I reread the letter while walking across the school's central plaza, one phrase in its first paragraph stood out: "many fingers point at you." Hays had recently become a vice-president of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut and was casting about for a novel idea and program....

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FIVE. Reviews

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pp. 136-149

From Glasgow we proceeded to Aberdeen in a rented car. I was driving. Richard, a fellow actor, and I had a few days free before the rehearsals in London. To while away the time, and because the occasion was right, I began to tell Richard about my Jewish-Scots grandfather. "My grandfather was a cabinetmaker by trade, but he always loved farming and worked on a dairy farm thirty miles west of Aberdeen....

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SIX. The World Tour

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pp. 150-185

Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts, a notoriously difficult and verbose play, had been staged only once before, in Hartford, Connecticut, in the 1930s, with black actors; even then it had a very short run. Hays decided to revive it and direct it himself. Since producing and directing are each demanding jobs, it is difficult for one...

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SEVEN. New Scripts

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pp. 186-217

Mike and I agreed to meet at The Ginger Man, a popular restaurant near Lincoln Center.
He signed slowly, but clearly, "I have good news and bad Which do you want to know first?"
"Good news, because, after all, bad news can always be worked out."
"CBS has agreed to produce Jonah. Charles Fries and Company will be in charge."
"That's great!" I exclaimed. "When do we start?"...

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EIGHT. Denouement

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pp. 218-219

As Michael and I drove away from the Sharon Valley, I signed to him with one hand, keeping the other hand on the steering wheel, "This is where I want my ashes scattered, too." Will you do me that service?" And when he answered, "Yes, do let me have the honor," I quipped, "If you promise me not to let me outlive you."...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563682179
E-ISBN-10: 1563682176
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563681394
Print-ISBN-10: 1563681390

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 34 photos
Publication Year: 1989