The Actor

I’ve been acting professionally since the earth’s crust was still cooling. When I started my acting career, I could see pretty well. I actually remember the pivotal moment on stage when I first realized I had a visual problem. A little backstory is helpful here.

I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (affectionately called RP) when I was 17 years old. If you think of a computer or TV screen being made up of a zillion pixels (a pixel is the smallest electronic element on the screen) and then slowly the pixels, one by one, burn out, you have an idea what happens to your vision when the zillion receptor cells on your retina start to die off one by one. I was in for a routine eye exam when this diagnosis was heaped on me. Since the receptor cells die off slowly, I wasn’t aware that my vision was any different than my neighborhood buddies. I was told that I would lose a significant portion of my sight – the amount and time table was unknown. Being 17, I didn’t pay much attention to it and went about living life; I drove cars, chased girls and played volleyball.

When I was 25, I was on stage rehearsing a company dance number for the Sunrise Musical Theatre production of Godspell and I was apparently out of step. The director yelled for me to use my peripheral vision. My immediate response was: “I have no peripheral vision!” (As if he was supposed to know.) It was precisely at that moment when my conscious mind registered the fact that my side vision was gone. Depending on what variety of RP you have, you lose your vision slowly – so slowly that you don’t recognize the visual changes as they occur. If half a zillion pixels stopped working in your computer monitor, you would see an incomplete image but could probably figure out the doppelgänger on the screen. As your retina loses its ability to send the proper messages to your brain, your brain tries to be helpful and sort of does a paint-by-numbers thing; it instantly analyzes what you can see and fills in your visual gaps with pieces of the image from the sample. So in essence, until you lose a significant number of receptor cells, you think you can see normally. I was no doubt out of sync with the actors next to me when my director popped his cork and yelled for me to get in step.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that acting was actually a good profession for a blind dude. Stages and film sets are small spaces and you rehearse the scene over and over until it is right. Ah! To be able to practice your “real world” till you get it right! Essentially, you’re memorizing where to move while you're memorizing your lines. With your lines you take your cues from the other actors. Your cues for your movements come from counting steps, keying off a set piece like a chair or coffin, a change in flooring going from hard surface to carpet for example, and when there is no one or nothing to anchor me, a small thin strip of wood called “half round molding,” like a mini broom stick cut in half, can be painted the same color as the stage and tapped into the boards with thin nails. It is flush with the stage so the audience doesn’t notice it and it doesn’t interfere with the movements of the other actors. You can find the strips with your foot and orient yourself accordingly. You may want a warning strip 6 inches before the lip of a platform, a real neck saver! Strips forming t's or crosses help with north, south, east and west orientation. At the end of the day, it's all about collaborating with the director and set designer. And oh yeah, even though I’m now totally blind, I’m still dancing! Memorizing the dance steps for the “Tradition” and “To Life” numbers in Fiddler on the Roof a few years ago was no sweat. (Amusingly when folks in the audience were asked by friends to pick out the blind guy in the cast, they always chose another actor, usually the one who didn’t dance so well.)

At the heart of the challenge is connecting with a director who sees past the disability (pun intended) to your talent and is excited to work with you. As directors don’t have a lot of experience working with an actor who is blind, I encourage them to think of me like any other actor. Just tell me where you want me to be at any given point in the script, and together we will figure out the on and off. I have played emperors, priests, military officers, funeral directors, a 105 year old American Indian scout, several Shakespearean characters, and occasionally a blind guy.

This last point I’ll make: there are not many blind characters written into plays and film scripts which is why I’ve played mostly sighted characters. Though I’m always happy to pretend I can see, I look to the future when our stages and screens are populated with more characters with disabilities since we are the nation’s largest minority. But that’s grist for the mill for another blog. Stay tuned.

Steve G

The Airport


The Airport

The airport for blind folks presents a unique environment of inconsistencies and some people who take themselves way too seriously. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport offers some fine examples.

Seeing Eye Dogs

The curb-side sign outside the FLL Airport reads: “No Pets Allowed Except Seeing Eye Dogs.” This sign begs some clarification of terms. All dogs trained to assist blind folks are not “Seeing Eye” dogs, like all tissue is not “Kleenex” and all soda is not “Coke.” The correct generic is “Guide Dog.” So when people ask me if my dog Billy is a seeing eye dog, I get cranky and resort to education. To be fair, New Jersey based The Seeing Eye was the first school in America (1929) to train dogs to help blind people navigate the obstacles they face every day while moving around their neighborhoods. There are now a dozen or so schools producing guide dogs, Billy being Florida-trained. This airport sign demonstrates the depth of unawareness for the right term even in the chain of command at an international level. The situation was about to be remedied when the check in guy asked me if I got my dog in Jersey. I offered to buy him a Coke.

Maintaining Visual Contact

I cannot maintain visual contact with my personal belongings. In the past 6 weeks I’ve been to New York, L. A. and Nicaragua. While waiting for my flights, I heard the recurring announcement to “please maintain visual contact with your personal belongings at all times.” I considered turning Billy to face and stare at my carry on suitcase but that cliché was even too much for me.

The Shoe-Nazi

I always get my ticket at curb side and take an escort to the gate. It’s clean and efficient with the only obstacle being that one in ten shoe-Nazi who insists on me removing my shoes. Just to be clear, since they always pat me down anyway, why take them off? They can swipe my footwear with a chemical and analyze it with their goggles and science kit. On my latest trip to L. A., I got that thug that behaved like Cerberus at the gates of Hades, growling at me to take off my shoes. After removing them and walking through the scanning arch, he said, “You can’t see without your dog, right?” I said, “I can’t even see with him.” Whoosh—flutter! I could hear his ears flapping as the comment zoomed past his head. He patted me down like the nefarious guy I was and I was off down the corridor once again.

The Dictator-In-Waiting

When I was sighted half my life ago, we always got our tickets at the front desk. Now checking in at curb-side as a blind dude, I missed the part when the technology changed to the friendly kiosk where you print your own ticket. On our way to New York for my son’s college graduation a couple of weeks ago, my daughter grabbed my credit card and printed our tickets to LaGuardia. Cool. When we arrived at the gate, the attendant asked for Billy’s papers. Papers? What papers? He indicated that I needed to produce “proof that he was a seeing eye dog” (snicker snicker) along with a history of his vaccinations and current blood line. The dictator-in-waiting also informed me that Billy should be wearing his certified vest. I asked dictator-in-waiting why he wasn’t wearing his certified jacket. “What jacket?” he asked. “The white straight one,” I mumbled. Whoosh—flutter! I explained that I travel a lot and have never been asked for my dog’s complete record at any airport. He said that I could not board the aircraft without it and I dropped the guy to the mat in a full nelson in my imagination. Then he noticed the service animal box wasn’t marked on my ticket during the kiosk check-in maneuver. I figured out the curb-side folks must always have check marked that box for me. My daughter was upset that I took the gate guy to task.  I think she thought he was cute.

A Cautionary Tale

When you’re blind, be careful when the guy sitting next to you on the airplane is being rude, ignoring your questions or not returning the obligatory ‘thank you’ to your ‘god bless you’ when he sneezes. Though no one needs to be tolerant of the insolent, he may be wearing headphones.

Steve Actor, Music Critic, Blogger

Steve's reviews for MiamiArtzine can also be found in the "News" tab of Insight's website.  Many thanks to Steve and Roger Martin for permission to post them, here.

An introduction.


Welcome to our blog! Allow me to introduce to you, Mr. Steve Gladstone.  Steve has been a friend of mine, and a friend of Insight for many years.  Steve is also a "blind dude", and that is the basis for his new blog.

I believe it was 2004 when I was asked to do a presentation about the upcoming transition to the new digital talking book player, in front of the Insight Board of Directors.  I had only been at Insight for a matter of months, and was still wrapping my head around our in-house production process, let alone the new digital player that was still many years away from launch.  So I called Steve for help, and he was there, for Insight.  I dummied up a crude digital player using an old mp3 player and some computer speakers, and Steve was my guinea pig.

Over the years, I've watched Steve on stage countless times in hugely diverse roles, read his fantastic music reviews, and followed his "political" career as the president of the Screen Actors Guild for the state of Florida, culminating in a huge merger with its sister union that made national headlines.   As the idea for our new website became a reality, I thought of Steve immediately.   Steve is as fascinating as he is funny, and as candid as he is intelligent.  I hope you enjoy getting to know Steve as much as I have.