Once he taught young minds about the beauty of English; now he would teach the nation about the beauty of ASL. Bragg was now an administrator working with David Hays, and contemplating who best could help launch the National Theater of the Deaf through its first season. While the initial application for funding was completed and filed, a fortuitous event occurred: NBC offered to film an hour-long program featuring deaf performers.
The result was an NBC special on “NBC Experiment in Television”, which featured Bragg, Audree Norton, Ralph White, Howard Palmer, Gil Eastman, June Russi, Phyllis Frelich and Lou Fant (who in addition to acting, served as interpreter). Gene Lasko wrote and supervised the overall program, while Joe Layton worked with the music and choreography. Arthur Penn directed the actors in a scene from the play, “All The Way Home.” Nanette Fabray introduced the program. The completed show would be featured nationwide on NBC.
But opposition to NBC’s special threatened the show’s airing: The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) mounted a protest against NBC’s decision. Fortunately, Bragg, Hays, Lasko, and all the people involved in the production decided to solicit support from educators nationwide in support of the program, and in the end, NBC ignored AG Bell and aired the show in 1967. The landmark program was historic: while Bragg had previously performed on television as a mime, now deaf performers were using their own sign language on television for the first time in the annals of American television history.
The resulting publicity helped sway opinion, and the initial funding application was approved that same year. The actors from the NBC show would join the new company. But others were needed; so Bragg contacted old friends and professional acquaintances. From these ranks came people like Joe Velez, Charles Corey, Audree Norton, and Morton Steinberg. At the same time, a rising young generation of deaf actors and actresses who performed at Gallaudet also joined the newly formed NTD, including Ed Waterstreet, Linda Bove, and Mary Beth Miller. The following year, the Little Theater of the Deaf began, and Bragg worked with fellow thespians Linda Bove, Mary Beth Miller, and Richard Kendall in inspiring and sharing cultural interests with children.
His ten years with NTD included performances ranging from Puccini’s operatic Gianni Schicchi, Japanese kabuki in The Tale of Kasane, Voltaire’s satirical Candide, and Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which aired in 1973 on CBS. Bragg also collaborated on original NTD productions such as My Third Eye, which showcased the deaf experience to hearing and deaf audiences. He continued garnering press notices and media exposure, including two appearances on “The David Frost Show” in 1972. As a group, NTD’s triumphs were also achievements for each individual actor, including Bragg. These coups included playing on Broadway in 1968, followed by a second run on Broadway during the 1969-70 NTD season. In 1977, NTD received a Tony award for Theatrical Excellence.
Bragg continued to work on his own as well, serving as artist-in-residence with the Russian Theater of Mimicry and Gesture. The periodical Soviet Life observed that Bragg was the first American to perform with Russians in more than a hundred years (the last being the noted black American actor Ira F. Aldridge). While he was in Moscow, he met Marcel Marceau; the two had had periodical encounters over the years since 1956. He also worked to improve his skills, attending workshops and lectures during his time at NTD. He wrote articles and gave interviews; one such set of interviews culminated in a biography of Bragg and the initial story of the NTD, Signs of Silence: Bernard Bragg and the National Theatre of the Deaf, by Helen Powers.
As NTD’s tenth anniversary approached in 1977, Bragg started to become restless. He had spent ten wonderful years touring both nationally and internationally, performing on stage and television. He had given workshops and lectures, and attended seminars and professional trainings. But he started to feel that he had given NTD all he could, and that he needed new challenges. He helped give birth to a professional theater for the deaf, but now that NTD was well established, it was time for him to seek a new path. The world was his stage, but now Bernard Bragg wanted to pick his own role, and find his own stage.