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Robert Panara deaf video collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RITDSA-0031

Scope and Contents

The recordings in this collection relate to Panara's teaching career and lifelong passion for ASL poetry and Deaf theater, and include recordings of classroom lectures, performances by the National Theater of the Deaf, television shows with deaf themes, and an interview with renowned Deaf actor Bernard Bragg. The following eight films have been digitized for viewing:

1. Dr. Robert F. Panara: A Profile (1984) - Robert F. Panara is a legendary professor of English, literature, and theater. He is also known as a poet, historian, drama-club coach, and authority on deaf figures in literature. Shot at Johnson County Community College (Kansas) in 1984 during a workshop Dr. Panara was conducting, the production is divided into two parts. In the first, Panara provides an overview of the establishment of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), for which he was hired as the first deaf professor, and how he taught both deaf and hearing students in the same class. He also started the theater department at NTID and helped found the National Theatre of the Deaf. In the second part, he performs creative interpretation of literature in sign language, including his own On His Deafness.Dr. Panara demonstrates how he has inspired countless others to tackle the supposedly "inaccessible" and "challenging" literary genre of poetry and make it fun and enriching (Described and Captioned Media Program, 2018). In this video Dr. Panara signs haiku poems, In Flander Fields by John McCrae, and Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.

2. The Lady or The Tiger Story (1985) - This story, The Lady or The Tiger, by Frank Stockton is performed in sign language by Dr. Panara. The story is about a king who set up a system to determine whether a prisoner was guilty or not guilty of a crime. The public was invited to the arena where the king sat on a throne. In front of the throne were two doors. Behind one door was a ferocious tiger, and behind the other, a beautiful lady. The prisoner had to choose a door, and if he chose the tiger, he was mauled to death and determined to be guilty. If he chose the lady, the King would host a wedding feast, as the prisoner was determined to be innocent. The King had a beautiful daughter, a Princess, who fell in love with a handsome man from the lower class. They had a secret relationship for several months until the King found out about it and became angry. He arrested his daughter’s boyfriend and he appeared in the arena to choose a door. The Princess found out what was behind the doors and would give a clue to her boyfriend. The beautiful lady behind the door once showed an interest in the boyfriend. The Princess sat next to her father and moved her hand to the right to indicate the right door to choose for him. What was behind the door? Did the Princess choose the tiger, a quick but brutal and bloody death, or the lady, whom he would marry?

3. Poetry and Literature in Sign Performances (1974) - Dr. Robert Panara starts out by presenting Japanese Haiku poems. He fingerspells the poem, and then acts it out using sign transliteration, body language, and facial expressions. The next poem he signs is Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, continues with a poem by Robert Burns, A Red, Red Rose, and the Star-Spangled Banner song by. Next he provides a signed rendition of Marc Antony’s famous speech Friends, Romans, and Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears by Shakespeare after Caesar’s death. Finally, he signs his famous poem, On His Deafness (modelled after John Milton’s On His Blindness).

4. Poetry Class Part One: Analysis of Poetry (1974) - The video shows Dr. Panara explaining lyric poetry and plucking the strings of a lyre to demonstrate the five senses. He discusses sense imagery and asks students what they see, hear, feel, taste, and smell when they visit the seashore in preparation for the poem ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masfield. The rhythm, alliteration, and rhyming structure of the poem are analyzed. He translates some phrases in the poem and explains why he uses particular signs and non-manual features for those signs.

5. Poetry Class Part Two: Analysis of Poetry (1974) - Dr. Panara discusses the vocabulary, analyzes similes and metaphors, and notes themes from several poems with a Deaf class, ‘The West Wind’, ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’, and O’Mistress Mine.

6. Dr. Albert Simone’s Inauguration Performance “NTID” Poem: Dr. Robert F. Panara (1992) - NTID professor emeritus and renowned Deaf poet Robert Panara recites his poem "NTID" on the occasion of the inauguration (1992) of Dr. Albert Simone as President of the Rochester Institute of Technology.

7. Focus: Spoon River, Jabberwocky and Haiku Poems (1972) - Three works are performed by seven students in the NTID Drama Club: an excerpt from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, Jabberwocky by Lewis Carrol, and Haiku Japanese poems. The student performers are: Charles ‘Chuck’ Baird, Betti (Elizabeth) Bonni, Debbie Helwig, Thomas Orscher, Donald Stoops, Miriam Sotomayor, and Glenn Stewart.

8. Poetry and Drama in Sign Creative Interpretation of Literature into Sign Performances: Bernard Bragg (1978) - This video, entitled “Creative Interpretation of Literature in Sign” features Bernard Bragg transliterating in sign language English poetry and drama works. He signs the following works: The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe The Tyger by William Blake On His Deafness by Robert Panara Seven Ages of Man (As You Like It) by Shakespeare To Be or Not to Be (Hamlet) by Shakespeare Selections from Milkwood by Dylan Thomas.


  • Creation: 1974-2008

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Biographical / Historical

The first Deaf faculty member at NTID, and a key figure in its history, Robert Panara was hired in 1967 to assist in establishing NTID on RIT's campus. He was instrumental in planning NTID's curriculum and preparing RIT's staff with ASL classes. He taught English at NTID and founded the Drama Club in 1970, which has grown into a full performing arts program with numerous productions yearly in the theater at NTID named in his honor. It was at the celebration of NTID's 20th anniversary in 1988 that the Robert F. Panara Theatre was dedicated. Panara is recognized as one of the founders of the National Theatre of the Deaf. He was the only deaf member of the National Advisory Board, and the first NTID faculty member. He was also awarded the RIT Founders Award for his lifetime of achievement and devoted service to RIT. Panara retired from NTID in 1987.

Robert Panara died in 2014 at the age of 94.


4.5 Linear Feet (33 DVDs, 37 VHS)




Collection of VHS tapes and DVDs assembled by Robert Panara, the first deaf faculty member of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology.


Collection materials are arranged by numerically.

Physical Location

C.S. Mid-Range, Shelves 333, 338

Other Finding Aids

In addition to this finding aid, an inventory is available below. For more information, please contact the RIT Archive Collections.

Robert Panara deaf video collection

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number(s): 2007:072;2007:028

Related Materials

Harry Lang collection on Robert Panara, RITDSA.0054

Robert Panara deaf poster collection, RITDSA.0030

Robert Panara literature collection, RITDSA.0032

John Panara collection on Robert and Shirley Panara, RITDSA.0166

Robert Panara Commemorative Stamp collection, RITDSA.0170

Miriam and Kenneth Lerner ASL Poetry collection, RITDSA.0027

Processing Information

Finding aid created by Amy Vilz in October 2011.

Robert Panara deaf video collection
RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive
Amy Vilz
10 October 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the RIT Archives Repository

Rochester NY 14623 USA