Inclusion in the Theater: Embracing Your Passion for Performance
“Go up to the board, and draw an image from last night’s reading assignment.”
The professor’s instruction seemed simple enough, but I felt my palms start to sweat as I stood from my chair. As the only freshman in an upper-level theatre history course, I wasn’t yet confident in my understanding of the material, let alone my artistic abilities to recreate it in front of my peers. Nevertheless, I walked to the board, picked up a piece of chalk, and began drawing out an image from my favorite scene of the Greek myths I’d barely finished reading. I paid little attention to my peers as they completed the same task, figuring I wouldn’t be able to see their drawings anyway, and when I finished, I returned to my seat to wait. Before my knees so much as bent an inch, my professor stopped me in my tracks.
“Now, I’d like each of you to gather around one another’s work and describe, in detail, the images you drew so that we all understand how you saw the scenes unfolding.”
She didn’t target me or call me out for being blind. She simply took an assignment and incorporated visual descriptions into her curriculum. With one simple statement she changed the trajectory of my college career. From that day on, theatre became a part of me.
During my four years of study at Central College, I played many roles (pun intended) in the theatre department. I was tasked with stage managing, lighting and sound design, and even directing among other things. But one of the most memorable adventures for me was venturing onto the stage as an actor. I was fortunate enough to be cast in four main-stage productions, the first of which took place during my sophomore year and the latter three during my senior year. Through trial and error, I learned valuable lessons about how to access my scripts in braille, how to navigate the stage with and without my cane, and how to make my interactions and gestures authentic when performing. While each of these lessons took time to learn, I’d like to share the most valuable takeaways that affect the actor and the spectator alike.
First, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! My first step when familiarizing myself with a set was to go in and explore. I’d contact my school’s technical director and find a time where he and I could venture onto the set so that I knew where steps, doors, and scenery were located. After we finished our walk-through, he’d answer any questions I still had. Then, when things were added or modified in any way, we’d do it again. In this instance, communication was the key to obtaining information. The same rule can apply for backstage participators and spectators; you’ll never know what sensory options are available to you until you ask.
Next, learn to laugh at yourself! Theatre is filled with not-so-comfortable conversations. I can’t count the number of times I had to ask if my facial expression was appropriate for a given scene or admit that I needed an extra hand getting off the stage when the lights went dark. The more comfortable you are with the situation, the better you can convey your needs to those around you.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to wholeheartedly devote yourself to the experience! As a member of the audience, I find myself laughing uproariously and bawling into my hands without a care in the world about what those around me are thinking about me because theatre affects us each uniquely. If a friend and I see a show together, I may find it hilarious while my friend finds the plot depressingly sad. It’s okay to form your own thoughts and opinions about what you interpret from a certain script or performance. The people onstage live for audience reactions, and you may just be the one person in the audience who picks up on a subtle joke or pop culture reference they’ve been dying to convey.
Finally, understand that theatre is a means of give-and-take! Actors don’t parade around a stage for their own benefit. They love the art so much that they practice day in and day out to put on a performance that means something to them. If you find yourself passionate about theatre, find a way to become involved. Audition for your dream role. Take tickets at your local theatre. Write a play. Make art mean something to you in whatever way you know how.
Simon McBurney once said, “Theatre is the art form of the present: it exists only in the present, and then it’s gone.” I invite you to meet me onstage and not let this beautiful art pass you by.