DeafBlind Circus, 1969

A circus for the community and a film

A film still of Deafblind Circus.

A color film still showing Perkins students performing in the Deafblind Circus. A caged circus wagon sits in front of an audience. Inside is a student in a lion costume. Another student dressed like a lion tamer stands nearby.

September 20, 2019

In May of 1967 the students and staff of the Deafblind Program at Perkins School for the Blind put on a Circus. Touted as the “first deafblind circus on the continent,” in the September 1967 issue of The Lantern, the circus featured students playing the parts of everything from elephants and ponies to magicians and clowns (“Perkins Deaf-Blind Department Circus”). The Circus included a total of 14 acts “to say nothing of a Fortune Teller” (“Perkins Deaf-Blind Department Circus”).

The Deafblind Department put on another circus in 1969. The children made many of the costumes, props and performed in the circus along with the teachers (“Films from the Perkins School for the Blind.”).The performance, open to the public, allowed the students to showcase their abilities to the community, but this time the cameras were rolling. Though not a planned production, the film “Deaf-Blind Circus” documented the event and was distributed along with other Perkins produced films meant to educate the public and professionals in related fields about its Perkins programming (“Perkins Film Library”). The circus is described in the 1974 Perkins Annual Report as illustrating the need deafblind children have for social and group activity (“Films from the Perkins School for the Blind”). The film, along with many other Perkins produced films, beginning in the 1920s, have been distributed for educational use over the years.

The benefits the Circus had on the students is also well documented in Perkins publications. The 1969 Perkins Annual Report states that the deafblind students talked about this circus for a long time afterward alongside a photograph showing a teacher signing to a student. Both are in front of children’s illustrations depicting scenes from the circus (“Department for Deaf-Blind Children”).  

A photograph in the 1969 Perkins Annual Report showing a teacher signing to a student. The young male student, who is wearing glasses and has a hearing aid, has his hands placed on a board holding up children's  illustrations. The illlustration are depicting depicting scenes from the circus and has a lable at the top that reads, "The Circus." 

 

One student in the Deafblind Program from singapore named Chan Poh Lin, wrote a poem about the circus, called “The Circus of 1969,”  which was published in the June 1969 issue of The Lantern. The first line begins with, “The shouting, laughing, screaming and crying sounded as bells ringing: It is heard, it is seen as fairies.”

“Deaf-Blind Circus” is 9 minutes long film, shot in 16mm, in color and with sound. It is part of the series called “The World of Deaf-Blind Children,” which also includes the film “How They Communicate.” The digitized film can be accessed on the Perkins.org website at Deafblind Circus, 1969 (opens in a new window). The film is audio described, contains closed captions, and includes a downloadable transcript. The poem my Chan Poh Lin is also available online in the June 1969 issue of The Lantern (opens in new window). More information about the films in the Perkins Archives collections can be accessed on the Perkins Film Collection Finding Aid (opens in new window).

Sources:

“Department for Deaf-Blind Children” 138th Annual Report of the Perkins School for the Blind, 1969, pp. 12. https://archive.org/details/annualreportofpe3640unkn/page/n267. Accessed 20 Sept. 2019.

“Films from the Perkins School for the Blind.” 143rd Annual Report of the Perkins School for the Blind, 1974, pp. 14. https://archive.org/details/annualreportofpe4146unkn/page/n247. Accessed 20 Sept. 2019.

“The Perkins Deaf-Blind Department Circus.” The Lantern, vol. 37, no. 1, Sept. 1967, pp. 31. https://archive.org/details/lantern6370unkn/page/30. Accessed 20 Sept. 2019.

“The Perkins Film Library.” The Lantern, vol.44, no. 2, March. 1975, pp. 12-13,15-16. https://archive.org/details/lantern7178unkn/page/n277. Accessed 20 Sept. 2019.

Poh Lin, Chan. “The Circus of 1969.” The Lantern, vol. 38, no. 3, June. 1969, pp. 14. https://archive.org/details/lantern6370unkn/page/n509. Accessed 20 Sept. 2019.