When you are blind and a professional actor, you always think your last gig is your last gig. Truth be told, most middle-class actors who are not blind generally feel the same way. We are delighted when we win a role, and always have our eye or ear out searching for the next audition and opportunity.
Since 99.58% of all scripted characters can see, most of the characters I’ve played over my career have been sighted.
A student recently asked me how long I have been acting (I told him since Jesus was in third grade) and mentioned to him that it’s easy to “see” on a set or stage because they are confined spaces, where I can count steps or key off a chair, table or accessible set piece, or another actor, in order to hit my mark. I use my ears to focus on my scene partner and with rehearsal or another take, it doesn’t register to the audience or viewer that I’m blind.
These days, however, when I call for an audition appointment, I float a trial balloon to see if the director might consider the role for which I’m reading to be played as a visually impaired person. If the director seems hesitant, that’s ok. He or she might be uncomfortable working with a blind fellow or may just lack the imagination to picture it. Other directors welcome the slant, finding that it might add an additional layer to the character.
What always works to my advantage is that the descriptions for roles listed on the cast break-downs never include language like, “Joe - married to Heather, in his mid-50s and is not blind.”
Once in a blue moon, a part for a blind character appears. I still must compete with sighted actors for the role. It's pretty easy to pretend you are blind, but I do have a competitive edge in that situation.
But, when the stage direction reads: “Enter the blind Tiresias, led by a Boy.”…that’s my jam!
And that recently happened. I was hired to play the blind soothsayer in Miami New Drama’s production of “Antigone.”
This time I didn’t have to move much on stage. However, the stage itself did move on me. The production was an adaptation of the iconic Greek tragedy, geared as a traveling show to be performed at high schools and various venues throughout Dade County.
Over the course of one month, we performed 31 shows at 20+ schools and venues in Miami-Dade, reaching around 10,000 students. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning, driving together somewhere around four-thousand miles to parts unknown, we played in every imaginable type of venue, from huge auditoriums to classrooms, cafeterias, a spectacular Fisher Island condo, to Lummus Park on South Beach. Each playing space was different, sometimes a floor, sometimes a stage and once even a grassy knoll – all transformed into the city of Thebes.
When you’re blind in this situation – an actor walking on unknown territory, adapting to new topography every day — you cast your fate to the wind and trust your dramatis personae to have your back. I relied on my steadfast pal Dave to safely get me to and from and in and out of each venue, whilst my scene partner, Cherise, reliably guided me to center stage where I hit my mark and issued my stern warning to King Kreon. All my castmates kept their eye on me; it was no sweat.
Now it's onward to the next gig…or will there be a next gig? We’ll “see, or not see.”
Steve Gladstone, The Blind Dude