It’s Not About Ebisu

BY Ati Citron

Ebisu Sign Language Theatre Laboratory has been operating since 2014 as part of the Grammar of the Body (GRAMBY) Research Project, led by University of Haifa Linguistics Professor Wendy Sandler, and supported by a grant from the European Research Council. Seven of the eight Lab actors are deaf, and all of them use Israeli Sign Language (ISL) on a daily basis. We use ISL combined with expressive gestures and physical theatre in order to develop a form of visual theatre that is aimed at both deaf and hearing spectators (with no interpreting during the show). Our work is based on improvisation. We play with the mimetic component of ISL, highlighting facial expressions and body language, and experimenting with gestures that are normally performed and understood by hearing and deaf people alike. The theatrical material we devise is poetic rather than literary, humorous and physical. We draw our inspiration from Deaf Culture and from the work of Twentieth Century theatre experimentalists who were searching for a theatre language that does not depend entirely on dialogue and spoken word.

We chose to name our Sign Language Theatre Laboratory after the Japanese god Ebisu, who is the only deaf god in world religions and mythologies. Ebisu, also known as the Laughing God, is one of the Seven Gods of Fortune in Shinto belief. He is first and foremost god of the fishermen, but was adopted also by farmers and merchants as their god, and his portraits and figurines are prevalent in shops and businesses throughout Japan. We are inspired by the jovial and auspicious deaf god and are proud to use its name, Ebisu, for our Sign Language Theatre Lab.

Our first show, It’s Not About Ebisu, opened in Tel Aviv in February 2016 with three sold-out performances and a very warm response from deaf and hearing spectators alike. It is a fantasy about a hero that was born in the forest and was raised by animals. As a young man, he sets off on a journey that eventually brings him to the city, where he encounters alienation and violence, confronts the embodiment of evil and wins over it thanks to special powers given to him by a shaman. The piece was conceived and directed by Ebisu director, Atay Citron, in collaboration with the actors.