Visionary Leader – October 2014

An actor, poet, writer, director, artist, and teacher, Bernard Bragg, ’52, is a true leader of the arts. And, as October’s Visionary Leader, he is regarded as a passionate and energetic trailblazer for deaf people in the national as well as international arts communities.

Bragg was born in 1928 in New York City to deaf parents. He graduated from the New York School for the Deaf and attended Gallaudet University, where he studied theatre. He led countless productions and his heart was always meant for the stage, even after he graduated and went on to teach at California School for the Deaf at Berkeley.

However, it was a Marcel Marceau acclaimed mime performance in San Francisco one night that nudged Bragg to get back into the spotlight.

“After I saw Marceau’s performance, I said to myself, if he can do a two-hour show without saying a word, why can’t I?” said Bragg.

Photo: A student of famed mime, Marcel Marceau, Bragg performed his art in night clubs. Pictured in 1958.

He made the right decision in sticking around to meet the actor post-performance. Bragg showed Marceau his natural talent in the voiceless performance art and Marceau gave him an immediate invite to study in Paris. That summer, off Bragg went to learn from the very best in the craft.

Upon returning to California, Bragg taught during the school year and performed at night; during school vacations; all summer long; whenever he could get the chance, really.

Bragg earned opportunities to perform on stage at colleges and universities, and then on public television KQED as the main character in The Quiet Man (1958-61), making him America’s first deaf professional performer.

Teaching was still a big part of his life and certainly offered more stable career opportunities, so Bragg went back to school for his master’s degree in special education from San Francisco State University in 1959. He would also later receive an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet University in 1988.

Bragg (third from left) with classmates at the American School for the Deaf in 1943.

Bragg graduated from the New York School for the Deaf (Fanwood School) in 1947. The school followed a military curriculum from 1892 to 1952.

Bragg was active in Gallaudet’s Drama Club. In 1951, he starred in Moliere’s “Tartuffe” with March Visionary Leader Gertie Galloway, ’51.

Bragg with with National Association of the Deaf President Bobbie Beth Scoggins at the World Federation of the Deaf’s 17th General Assembly in Madrid, Spain in July 2007.

On October 2013, Bragg gives a talk on giving thanks at his 85th birthday event in Waterford, Connecticut-birthplace of the National Theatre for the Deaf (NTD). With NTD from 1967 to 1977, he lived on the road for those 10 years and gave performances across the country and around the world.

It was 1966 in New York City, though, when Bragg got the opportunity that would change his life and the role of deaf people in the arts. With New York University psychology professor Dr. Edna Levine and Broadway set designer David Hayes, Bragg co-founded the National Theatre for the Deaf (NTD).

Within one year the three-person team-all already quite successful in their respective fields-received enough government funding to bring the NTD to life. Almost immediately, the NBC television network offered to film the deaf actors for an hour-long television special, making history as America’s first televised performance in American Sign Language.

For 10 years Bragg performed with the NTD, but in 1977, he decided he wanted to take everything he learned to cities abroad, promoting sign-mime as legitimate and powerful theatrical form. He spent six months speaking and performing in 25 countries and 36 cities. When the gig was up, perfect timing allowed Bragg to accept a position as artist-in-residence back where his journey first began, at Gallaudet.

From 1978 to 1995, Bragg taught, consulted and performed in the theatre department. He even taught acting to the young and then only budding actress, Marlee Matlin. In 1989 he published an autobiography, Lessons in Laughter: The Autobiography of a Deaf Actor.

Bragg contributed his expertise to a number of groundbreaking films for the deaf community, including the acclaimed My Name is Jonah (1979).

Bragg continues to perform on a national scale and give back to the deaf community. His most recent one-man show, Theatre in the Sky, donated $55,000 of proceeds to the National Association of the Deaf and the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD).

Naturally, he has received much recognition for his contributions to the deaf community and beyond. In 1975, he received the International Solidarity Merit Award, First Class from WFD and in 2001, he was justly awarded the WFD Lifetime Achievement Award.

Though Bragg has chosen to settle in Los Angeles, he is a guest lecturer at a number of universities, and also has become involved with Deaf West theatre productions, working alongside current artistic director, David Kurs ’98. In his more recent free time, he has found joy in painting.


Profile photo courtesy Gallaudet Archives. All other photos courtesy Bernard Bragg.


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Celebration of Dr. Bragg’s 89th Birthday

Our birthday man in center of attention, his expression is priceless – he is in disbelief that he is now 89 years old!

Photo was taken at early b’day party held Saturday, 16 September 2017 to celebrate Dr. Bernard Bragg’s 89th birthday. Behind Dr. Bragg left to right: Sharon Ann Dror, David Kurs and Marlee Matlin Grandalski.

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On Friday, June 23, 2016, Fanwood dedicated its Auditorium/Theatre in honor of Bernard Bragg, one of its most prominent alumni and one of the world’s most accomplished performing deaf artists. A pioneer as a deaf mime and actor, “BB”, as he is fondly called in the deaf community, was central to paving the way for many deaf and hard of hearing actors in Theatre, television, and movies.

Ron Stern and Arlene Rice at right. Photo: Joseph Guss

Ron Stern and Arlene Rice at right. Photo: Joseph Guss Ron Stern and Arlene Rice, right. Photo: Joseph Guss[/caption]


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Bragg to make appearance at Festival Clin d’Oeil in France

Dr. Bernard Bragg is scheduled to appear at Festival Clin d’Oeil, an international annual film festival in Reims, France. Reims is a 1 1/2 hour drive north east of Paris.

This year the festival runs from 2-5 July 2015. Famous international professional and amateur companies present their achievements in various disciplines: Theatre, Poetry, Visual Vernacular, One man show, Dance

Plans include showing more than 20 short and documentary films, 50 art exhibitors and 20 performances of the official program, street theater shows musical groups and “Deaf to the Party.”

Event Website: [French]


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Gallaudet to Induct Noted Performer and Artist Bernard Bragg Into Hall of Fame


Gallaudet University has announced its newest inductee to the Gallaudet University Hall of Fame, noted actor, poet, writer, director, artist, teacher, and prominent Gallaudet alum Bernard Bragg, ’52.

Established during the tenure of Gallaudet President Percival Hall, who served from 1910-1945, the Gallaudet University Hall of Fame began as a small collection of memorials and grew over the years. Prior to 1980, forty individuals were inducted.  The Gallaudet University Hall of Fame celebrates individuals who have made outstanding contributions that align with the University’s mission on a national or international scale. One of the oldest honors bestowed by the University, the Hall of Fame inducts people who are exemplars of service, stature, or achievement.


“Dr. Bernard Bragg is regarded as a passionate and energetic trailblazer for deaf people in the national as well as international arts communities,” said Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz.

Bragg will be inducted alongside such notables as Laurent Clerc, The Abbe Charles Michel de l’Epee, Presidents James A. Garfield and Abraham Lincoln, Gertrude Scott Galloway, Jack R. Gannon, I. King Jordan, among others.

In 2014, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of Gallaudet’s charter by President Abraham Lincoln, the University’s Board of Trustees revived the Hall of Fame by inducting 14 people.  Every year thereafter, the Board of Trustees may select up to two individuals to be inducted. Bragg is the only inductee for the year 2015. Nominations for the 2016 cohort are currently being accepted and the deadline for nominations is July 31, 2015. Click here to learn how to submit a nomination.

Bragg will be officially inducted this September during President Hurwitz’s annual welcome back speech in Elstad Auditorium on the Gallaudet campus.

Click here to learn more about the Hall of Fame. Click here to learn more about past inductees.

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

Kaitlin Luna, Coordinator of Media and Public Relations
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(202) 250-2973 videophone
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