On a Sunday afternoon in October 1978, Leslie Warren called a group of nine professional Sign Language Interpreters to her home in Farmington, CT to discuss the possibility of creating a performing troupe. Their goal was to raise funds for C.R.I.D. (Connecticut Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf--a non-profit professional organization for sign language interpreters), the host of the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Convention to be held in Hartford, CT in 1982.
The president of C.R.I.D., several of its officers, and the Convention Chairperson determined that $12,000 was needed to cover the expenses for this national event. Warren’s idea of putting on a show was accepted with a great deal of enthusiasm and, with no theatrical experience, the “performers” began to meet and practice. They decided to call themselves, “The C.R.I.D.D.E.R.S.” Warren never imagined that years later the same troupe would be celebrating its 25th anniversary with a performance at the very same theater, on the very same stage. The Roberts Theater at Kingswood Oxford School, was the site of The CRIDDERS’ first performance and will be the site again this coming December!
Warren was, at the time of CRIDDER creation, the “Music and Movement” instructor at The American School for the Deaf where she honed her sign language skills and developed techniques for instructing the deaf students. These same techniques were used to train and direct The CRIDDERS in preparing for theatrical presentations. The CRIDDERS planned and rehearsed (at The American School for the Deaf) a two-hour variety show and took it “on the road.” Auditions were held in the Spring of 1979 and five more members joined. Eventually, this group of thirteen performers and five technical crew members (all VOLUNTEERS) successfully raised the money needed to host the 1982 convention. After the convention, the public demand for performances by The CRIDDERS precluded any decision to stop bringing this unique style of entertainment to audiences. The CRIDDERS continue performing today, each member doing so without any thought or expectation of personal financial gain.
Since 1982, the group has been nationally known for its unique performances enjoyed by hearing, hard of hearing and deaf audience members of all ages. The theater-going public, as well, regularly attends CRIDDERS’ performances. The combination of popular music presented with sign language in a format of cleverly designed skits and vignettes offers a unique and intriguing art form. For those who have never been exposed to sign language, The CRIDDERS offers an introduction to this fourth most commonly used language in our country today. Deaf Awareness is an important piece of The CRIDDERS’ peripheral message.
Since 1978, eighty-six individuals have come and gone as volunteers donating their time and talents to this effort either as performers or technical crew members. They have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals and special needs groups. They have traveled extensively in cities throughout the USA and Canada including Tampa, Little Rock, Washington, DC, Boston, New York City, Denver, Columbus, and Oklahoma city just to name a few. Some of their sponsoring organizations have included The Special Olympics, GTE Corporation, SNET, The President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, United Cerebral Palsy, Very Special Arts, Gallaudet University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and of course, the American School for the Deaf.
The CRIDDERS has appeared on numerous cable and national television programs including The NBC Today Show, The Discovery Channel, and CBS Sunday Morning. The group has also received numerous local and national awards and citations including the Hartford Courant’s Volunteer Recognition Award, Citations from the General Assemblies of Connecticut and New York, AIDS Project Hartford, and an Outstanding Service Award from the Connecticut Association of the Deaf. Individually, The CRIDDERS’ members have achieved numerous personal accomplishments, as well. Warren, founder and director, received a national award for outstanding service in the performing arts in the form of the Jean Kennedy Smith Award--Very Special Arts based in Washington, DC for her efforts on behalf of students at the American School for the Deaf; Keith Vinci, a performer and business manager, was named Connecticut Governor William O’Neill’s “Person of the Year” for his work at the Connecticut Commission on the Deaf and Hearing Impaired; and Jane Davol, a performer and classroom instructor at the American School for the Deaf, was named “Deaf Educator of the Year” in 1997 by the National Conference of American Educators and Administrators of the Deaf.
The President of Gallaudet University has referred to The CRIDDERS as “one of the finest groups of its kind in the country.” “Not bad for a group of individuals who never had any real professional stage training,” notes Warren who writes, directs, and selects the music for the performances. The occupations of the members of the group represent a broad spectrum: Registered Nurse, computer technologists, teachers of the Deaf, speech therapist, social worker and professional sign language interpreters.
The CRIDDERS meet every Sunday night at The American School for the Deaf to rehearse for their inspiring performances. Warren states that “The CRIDDERS’ intent today is to expose the notion of music to the hearing impaired population in a shared experience with hearing persons that presents the visual experiences of sign language in an entertaining, comfortable atmosphere...The CRIDDERS is but one small step toward bridging the gap between two distinct and unique worlds: one filled with sound, one rich with silence.”