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Australian Theatre of the Deaf

In 1973, a group of deaf people formed an amateur theatre group to entertain the Deaf Community and educate hearing people. This group went on to become the acclaimed Australian Theatre of the Deaf.

The amateur NSW Theatre of the Deaf began in March 1973, with the support of Ken Tribe, then President of the Deaf Society. He had seen performances of Deaf Theatre in America and England as had John Ferris, who had attended Deaf Theatres overseas, and they both gave their support to a Deaf Drama Club that consisted of around twenty deaf people. Under the direction of Dr Oliver Fiala, of the Department of Drama at the University of NSW, the ‘NSW Theatre of the Deaf’ made their debut production, ‘Variations on Peer Gynt’ at Newington College Theatrette, Stanmore in November 1973.

In 1974, the U.S. National Theater of the Deaf (NTD) toured to Australia and gave those involved in the NSW Theatre of the Deaf the opportunity to learn about drama and performance. After the NTD tour, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust began its long commitment to the development of a professional theatre of the deaf in Australia, hiring a hearing director, Adam Salzer, to work with the NSW group. One of the founding members of the group, Nola Colefax, was appointed as a non-paid Assistant Artistic Director. 

From 1975-1979 Adam Salzer directed a number of productions with the NSW Theatre of the Deaf and by 1978, Nola Colefax had became a full-time Co-Artistic Director. When Salzer left the Company in 1979, he was replaced by Ian Watson. The actors in the theatre company mainly came from trades jobs; upholsterers, processing workers, tradesmen and they held down full time jobs while spending all their ‘spare’ time making drama.

In 1979, the Theatre of the Deaf - Theatre in Education team was founded by three Deaf actors – Colin Allen, David London and Nola Colefax;  and two hearing actors, Margaret Davis and Bryon Jones.  By 1982, the company was divided into two groups: the part-time amateur group and the professional group, which provided over 500 performances each year, mainly to schools. By 1986, the company had developed 16 original productions for school children with performances in Tasmania, Melbourne, South Australia, the ACT, plus regional centres and towns throughout NSW. 

The company expanded this touring record to include Victoria and Queensland and aimed to service all States in 1989. By then, there had been appearances on local and national television, a performance before HRH The Prince of Wales, an Order of Australia Medal for founding member Nola Colefax and main stage productions. The year of 1989 also saw the appointment of Carol-lee Aquiline, herself deaf, as the new Artistic Director with the highly successful play ‘Wolfmoon’ that launched the company’s new style. During that same year, the company transferred from the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust to being part of Performing Lines, developing and producing new Australian plays that toured regionally, nationally and internationally.

At the World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), in both Japan and Austria, the theatre company performed to audiences of over 2,000 people. In 1994, the company toured to New Zealand and performed with the Singapore Theatre of the Deaf at the Singapore Fringe Festival. Having toured to every state and territory in Australia and internationally, it was fitting that the company was renamed the Australian Theatre of the Deaf in 1995. The company continued to strengthen its presence in the Asia Pacific region by collaborating with the Hong Kong Deaf Theatre Company in 2000. By 2010, the Australian Theatre of the Deaf joined forces with Arts Access Victoria, where it has come under the guidance of Deaf Arts Network (DAN).

Those involved with the Australian Theatre of the Deaf since its establishment in 1973 are:

Nola Colefax 1973-1982, Viola Thurgar 1973-1982, Dorothy Horswood 1973, Beryl Rudd 1973, Jack Christie 1973, Peg Christie 1973, Keren Scott 1973, Alan Jones 1973, Ramzy Absolon 1973, Pam Behan 1973, Mary Strano 1973, Paul Boyd 1973, Margo Allen, David London 1974-1986, Colin Allen 1976-1982 , Maria Pidhorodeckyj, Sylvia Nagy, John Paine, Michael Fuller, Gillian Jankaus, Hilary Gamack, Kevin Kime 1977, Charlene Grace 1977, Alan Stewart 1977, Michael Mahony 1977, David Allen 1977, Carol-lee Aquiline 1982-1987, Michael Canfield 1989, Sofya Gollan 1987, Samantha Wilson 1990, Steve Ripley 1982-1987, Jean St Clir 1987, Bill Eggerking 1981, Noel Pickard 1981, Colin Thompson 1981-1982, John Cateris 1981, Sheila Kerr 1981. Mariana Henderson 1981, David Lynn 1981, Martha Rundell 1982, Rosemarie Lenzo 1983, Tony Nicholas 1986, 1990, Luke Watts, Karen Jahn 1982 and Bethany Robinson 2007-2009. 



Nola Colefax’s book ‘ Signs of Change’, 1999

The Silent Messenger issues

Brochure ‘Quota International Inc presents an evening performance by the Theatre of the Deaf in Lismore October 1990’