Monday, August 29, 2011

Working with Blind Actors - Truly an Eye Opening Experience


I am currently stage managing and directing a one-of-a-kind piece of theatre with Out of Sight Productions in London, Ontario.  This theatre company uses both sighted and sight-challenged actors in their productions.
Listen to the owner, Kelly MacDonald, talk about this theatre company and hear what actors are saying about their experience here: I Only See Shadows

It is amazing what I have learned about myself and others through directing actors who cannot see me.  At first I was nervous about saying the wrong thing or offending someone by my ignorance but the actors on this project have helped me to better understand what life is like for them everyday.  They are also very good at taking a joke and dishing them out!

I remember at the second rehearsal asking an actor  to make the hand gesture of someone talking and the actor did not know what I meant.  It made me stop.  My mind went blank and I feel as though, right there and then, that I experienced something that changed who I am.  As a director, I often tell actors what I want them to do and when I want them to move their hands or body in a certain way to express emotion or inner thoughts.  It was magical being able to hold the actors hands in mine, and show her what I meant.  "The thumb  is like the jaw of a mouth, " I said "and the other fingers are held tightly together above the thumb representing the top of a mouth.  When you open and close your hand making the thumb touch the bottoms of your fingers and separate repeatedly, this looks like a mouth opening and closing - like someone who doesn't stop talking.".

At another rehearsal, I caught myself asking an actor to put up her hand to make "the peace sign" with her fingers towards another actor.  She did not know what I meant.  I felt a piece of my heart break a little just then.  The "peace sign".  Something many of us have seen as a symbol of love, change, revolution, hippie times, acceptance, the Beatles and diversity.  Something we all take for granted.

The most powerful part of working with this group (for me) is being able to share body language, hand gestures and facial expressions with people who have never seen them before.  As a director with this group, I can't simply ask an actor to frown as if she smells something rotten, I have to show her by having her touch my face while I frown or by touching the areas of her face I want her to move.  I can't ask an actor to "pop out her hip like a young teenager giving her mother attitude".  I have to stand beside her and show her which leg to straighten, which leg to bend and which hip to place her hand on.

I have never felt more connected to a cast than I have with this group.  The show will be dedicated to the memory of my late Uncle William Douglas Baker who was blind since the age of 12 and passed away this year at the age of 47.  May he rest in peace.

It has been a wonderful journey and the best, I'm sure, is yet to come.  The show goes up at the ARTS PROJECT on Dundas Street in London, Ontario on September 28th at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and all are welcome!