The NTID Department of Performing Arts produces several shows per season. Faculty and staff collaborate extensively with the College of Liberal Arts’ School of Performing Arts, while also maintaining NTID’s long tradition of Deaf-centered theatre and dance. All of our productions are accessible to Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing audiences, whether back stage, onstage, or in the house. We are also committed to offering accessible performances for audiences with visual and other disabilities.
The NTID Department of Performing Arts immerses students in a creative environment where they can explore the intersections of the performing arts, technology, and deafness. Benefits from studying and participating in the performing arts include:
Fostering an appreciation of diverse art forms
Developing creativity and self-expression
Strengthening visual perspectives and sign language competencies
Developing interpersonal, artistic and expressionistic skills that can be used in many other aspects of life
We recognize each individual's background and experiences provide unique perspectives as we represent the world around us through the arts. We believe the performing arts should provide the foundational environment to embrace and reflect this diversity on stage, backstage and through the lens of the audience. Our work is guided by these principles:
Choose season programming that presents a range of voices and creates opportunities for diverse, inclusive casting.
Select directors and production leaders from a wide range of backgrounds.
Embrace diverse, inclusive casting for every role, while honoring a playwright’s expressed intentions and adherence to licensing agreements.
Provide opportunities for students to grow as artists, rather than being solely defined by their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, hearing status, disability, or other identifying characteristic.
Actively engage with RIT, local, and national communities to recruit performers and production team members from diverse backgrounds.
Maintain and advance the long history and legacy of deaf-centered performance at NTID.
Regularly offer visual description, relaxed performances, and other accommodations to make our productions accessible to people with disabilities.
Experiment with new modes of performance that create new possibilities for artistic expression and inclusion.
Eliminate barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in design and production activities.
Recognize and work to dismantle systematic barriers to access and inclusion within the college and institute.
Ensure our teaching materials and practices are accessible, inclusive, and equitable.
Seek out opportunities to continue our individual journeys in creating an intersectional, inclusive, and culturally-respectful department environment.
Performing Arts at RIT originated with NTID. After the success of the student drama club founded by Dr. Robert Panara in 1969, drama became an integral part of NTID’s curriculum. The Experimental Educational Theatre Program opened in 1974 and eventually became the Department of Performing Arts. Until the College of Liberal Arts opened in 1997, we were the only college on campus offering theater, dance, and even music classes. Deaf theatre faculty over the years have included Patrick Graybill, Phyllis Frelich, Susan Jackson, Aaron Kelstone, Shanny Mow, and Howie Seago. Performance group Sunshine Too was part of the department from 1980-1989, touring nationally and internationally to present programs about Deaf awareness, social issues and the environment. The company was relaunched in 2017 as Sunshine 2.0. Dance was added to the curriculum in the 1980s, under the leadership of Michael Thomas. The RIT/NTID Dance Company, a unique ensemble of deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing students, presented a diverse repertoire of student and faculty choreography from 1980-2010. In 2021, the dance company was relaunched as Dance Core under the direction of faculty Marc Holland.
Current and Upcoming Events
Follow these links for more information on current and upcoming events:
The department offers a variety of classes in dance, Deaf performance, and technical theatre open to all RIT students. Students can complete a Minor or Immersion in Theatre Design and Stagecraft, a Minor or Immersion in Dance, and a Minor in ASL Performance.
All first-year and transfer applicants to RIT/NTID are eligible to apply for the Performing Arts Scholarship, regardless of intended major. This scholarship may be received in combination with other awards and grants and is renewable each year you are involved in performing arts at RIT.
You're interested in more than just your major. You have a love and a talent for theatre and tech production, acting, dancing, or playing music. At RIT/NTID, we just don't hope you'll continue participating in the performing arts, we absolutely encourage it through scholarship programs.
NTID Performing Arts hires students workers every semester to assist with backstage production. Duties range from helping construct costumes, props, scenery, to electrical and lighting work, to setting up and running events. Student workers must have completed at least one technical theater course or have prior technical theater experience.
Every aspect of an NTID production is accessible to Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing people: back stage, onstage, or in the house. We also offer an audio described performance for each theatre production. To request other accommodations, please contact email@example.com.
For additional season 2023-24 theatre audition and casting information: check here.
Facilities & Theatre
A Unique Form of Theatre
In developing a production that is equally accessible to Deaf and hearing, on-stage, backstage, and for members of the audience, there are many factors to consider that are unique to this form of theater: designing costumes and sets that are historically accurate yet provide sightlines and clear background for the Sign Language to play against (it's difficult to read Sign Language from the audience if the actor has on a bright, paisley shirt or the set is a series of "busy" colors and lines); or how to represent off-stage dialog and/or sound effects visually; keeping focus on the actors and not on extraneous, but often necessary movement; how to interpret dialog from the script that is based on sounds such as imitation of another's voice; how to stage or "block" the show so that both the audience and the actors can see each other at all times; how to cue an actor that cannot see the action on stage, but must enter on a certain line; how to incorporate voice actors; and many, many other unique things that make this type of theater so exciting. Design and staging challenges, script translation to Sign Language, and non-traditional casting are examples of the factors that cause our Director's imaginations to soar--much to the benefit of our audiences.
From the experimentation and imagination required to mount one of our productions, we have developed a body of works that have enriched the lives of hundreds of thousands audience members and a working process that has greatly benefitted and encouraged hundreds of young Deaf performers. We are very proud of the fact that many of the Deaf Professionals in the performing arts and entertainment industry are our former students, faculty and staff.
Our very successful heritage is now the backbone for our future growth. We are looking to expand our academic programs as well as our relationships with mainstream professional and community theaters. We produced the first-ever "American Deaf Play Creators Festival" and look forward to its continued growth and development. We look forward to the future, having the confidence and desire to promote artistic growth within the Deaf community and awareness of the many talents of Deaf Artists within the hearing community.
The Robert F. Panara Theatre is named in honor of Dr. Robert Panara, RIT’s first Deaf Professor and founder of the NTID Drama Club. A 449 seat auditorium, the theatre has played host to numerous guest artists such as Mikail Baryishnikov, Jane Fonda, Louise Fletcher, Marlee Maitlin, the National Theatre of the Deaf, Phyllis Frelich, Bernard Bragg, Patrick Graybill, Howie Seago, Cleveland SignStage, Annabelle Gamzon, Garth Fagan Dance, Hartford Ballet, Foreigner, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Sean Forbes, American Deaf Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Danielle Ponder, and many others.
The theatre opened its doors on October 3, 1974 with a production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Originally called the Experimental Educational Theatre (EET), the theatre program has a rich heritage of offering challenging, entertaining, and provocative works of theatre, all created for both Deaf and hearing audiences. We have produced work in a wide variety of theater styles; Comedy, Musical, Dance, Drama, Classical, Kabuki (Japanese), Experimental, Puppets, and new works by both Deaf and hearing authors.
Renovations in 2022-2023 included the first update to Panara Theater’s lighting system since its opening in 1974 as well as the creation of a new dance lab, a new multi-purpose rehearsal room, and an expanded scene shop with areas for painting props and for welding. In addition, the renovations updated the existing dance lab, costume shop, woodshop, dressing rooms, green room, faculty offices, and department office suite. The renovations also focused on increasing the accessibility of the performing arts spaces. The updated costume shop is fully accessible for wheelchair users and includes height-adjustable tables and an adaptive sewing machine. The costume shop, green room, and dressing rooms all now include TV monitors that can show the stage, allowing for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to see cues to go on stage.
The Robert F. Panara Theatre seats 440 people plus 9 handicap accessible spaces.
The new Dance Labs and Rehearsal Room are available for students to reserve for individual or group practices. Rooms can be reserved through EMS or by contacting NTIDperformingarts@rit.edu.
This new dance lab not only increases the overall amount of space on campus for dance but also allows for multi-purpose usage with its sprung floors and light grid. These features will allow the spaces to be used for small productions as well as rehearsals and classes.
Make a gift to Buy-A-Seat in the Robert F. Panara Theatre! This gift will make you a permanent supporter of the exciting performing arts program at NTID and a participant in some exciting renovations. We will mount a brass plaque with the inscription of your choice on your seat in the newly renovated theatre. It will be a permanent symbol of your generosity for thousands of theater goers to view each year. And, you will be helping to support the first major renovations to the Robert F. Panara Theatre in its thirty-year history.
In February 2022, CODA made history by becoming the first movie featuring a predominantly Deaf cast to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. And Troy Kotsur, one of the film’s stars, became only the second Deaf performer to be nominated for (and win) an Oscar. At the time, this moment was heralded as a landmark in the fight for greater representation for the Deaf community.
More than 500 incoming students this academic year received a performing arts scholarship, which were created to enable musicians, dancers, actors, and even students with experience in technical theater to continue to pursue their passion for performance while at RIT. To date, some 1,800 students have received scholarships in the five years they have been available.
The inaugural production in the newest building on the RIT campus, AstroDance II: Across the Universe, premieres Dec. 1 to 3, featuring a variety of dance, aerial and circus arts, and augmented reality, which will be presented in the new state-of-the-art Sklarsky Glass Box Theater.