by Barbara Pierce
The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille division in the NFB of Ohio conducted a fundraiser at the 2011 state convention that was great fun for those who participated and a huge hit with the audience. With no trouble we raised $210 that we spent immediately on slates, styluses, and Braille paper used to teach adults to read Braille across the state. This is what we did:
Last year Sherri Wells-Jensen, a new NAPUB member and a professor at Bowling Green State University, suggested that we prepare and present a reading of a radio drama from the golden age of radio during this year’s convention. She volunteered to identify a script, and the division agreed to field the cast of Braille readers to serve as the actors. Sherri found a 1943 episode of Fibber McGee and Molly in the public domain. Its title was “Fibber Puts on a Happy Face.” These old plays were never published, and no one seems to be around to whom royalties could be paid. Even the transcribers seem to be lost to history. So these old radio programs are a great source of short scripts.
My husband Bob, who has acted in a number of plays but who has not directed a production since the eighth grade, agreed to direct the rehearsals. He named our group Not the Royal Shakespeare Company, and we were off and running. Together he and I assigned parts to those who stepped forward ready to read. We generated Braille scripts before national convention and conducted a read-through during that week. We grabbed time for another rehearsal after an in-person board meeting in September. Then Bob set up sectional rehearsals over the phone during October. Fibber, NFB-O President J.W. Smith, and Molly, Deborah Kendrick, had to be present at each rehearsal, but the rest of the cast each carved out an hour or so for rehearsal in the weeks before convention.
Early Friday evening of convention the cast did a last run-through, and we were ready for a performance late that evening. Our one disappointment was that we thought we had worked out sound effects that we could use for doors opening and closing and the doorbell ringing during the play. It turned out that the wave files we were given were for the Mac, and the computer we had was a PC, so we had to improvise with the director knocking on a door and opening and closing it at the appropriate moments. At the climax of the play, Fibber has a meltdown and kicks a lamp around. Bob grabbed up the plastic trash basket from our room and did a brilliant job of slamming it down on the table as Fibber ranted. It really made a most convincing repeated lamp crash.
In the original programs the studio audience was always pressed into service to clap wildly at various points. To cue our blind audience, Bob knocked on the wall and stopped us the same way. The cues worked beautifully, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed carrying out its role.The actors were all delighted with the experience. Some had had previous acting experience, but others had never done anything like this. They all took direction well and blossomed when they began performing before a live audience. The affiliate discovered talents in our leaders that we had no idea of. People stopped me throughout the convention to tell me how much they had enjoyed the performance and to urge NAPUB to do something similar next year. The entire experience energized the division, and we decided unanimously to find another script to perform next year. Everyone in Ohio would encourage other states to try this activity. It showcases Braille reading amazingly and generates funds for doing great projects around the state.