Braille Monitor                          March 2020

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My Shot

by Brooke Tousley

From the Editor: Brooke is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada and accepted the opportunity to speak at a state convention. President Terri Rupp thought so much of these comments that she sent them to the Braille Monitor. I thank Brooke for writing this and Terri for sending it. Here is what Brooke says:

I was asked to give a speech about my experiences with being blind and being an actor. As an actor and as a person who is blind, I am happy to share my experiences on how I self-advocate in a completive field that doesn’t always seem visible. As a point of reference, I have been legally blind since I was born. My normal is being blind. I have staged my life around having a disability. My family and friends have always taught me to be my true authentic self. I was taught not to see the word “disabled” as “un-able” but as “differently abled.” I have different abilities that contribute to my authenticity.

Growing up, I never saw authenticity in television, film, or onstage. I saw abled-bodied actors un-authentically portraying me. I did not understand why authenticity was presumably unattainable or uneventful. I did not understand why people who are blind or low vision are not included in the inclusion of authenticity.

Letting us play is important. It is important because inclusion allows us to be seen and to be present and authentic. As performers, we are storytellers. I started storytelling when I was a senior in high school. Theatre was an after-school activity that I participated in alongside my friends who wanted to tell their story. From high school to now, I have performed with many local theatre companies, including Merry War Theatre Group, Brüka Theatre of the Sierra, Mercury Momentum, and Reno Little Theatre. I fell in love with the Reno community theatres because they became a creative space for me to play without limitations. I am passionate about the arts because art is another extension of my self-expression. I am able, in every sense of the word. Performing onstage is a place where I can let go and feel safe. There is something truly profound about a space where you can speak and move and let go of the world’s limitations placed on you as well as others grueling interoperations of you and blindness.

A Ted Talks [a popular series of short videos] I listened to the other day, “Disability: Casting a Revolution” from Jenny Sealey, the Artistic Director and CEO of Graeae, spoke about the artistic process of disability. Sealey stated, “Art informs the creative process of access, and access informs the creative process.” What she meant by this was that art is always evolving and changing to stay relevant. Accessibility should stay relevant. Disability and accessibility should not be an afterthought. The notion of integrating accessibility should take center stage. Being authentic is accessible.

I humbly admit that I have blind privileges. I am not a cane user, a Braille user, nor do I have a guide dog. I am the world’s acceptable version of being blind and having a disability. I have been told “You do not look blind or act blind,” whatever that means.

When do you tell your director you are blind? Or, do you even tell them at all? Am I not authentic if I don’t share that in my resumé, or am I saving myself the rejection of “You don’t look like the role.” Blindness doesn’t fit the role. I memorize lines just like everyone else, but I also memorize the stage and where people are standing and where I stand. I memorize my blocking and cues like everyone else, but I also memorize other people’s blocking so I know I am safe. I have had the opportunity to portray Shakespearian characters, possessed characters, a widow, and a cat among many others, despite my different abilities. 

I am grateful to have peers who have helped guide me through my craft and authenticity without hesitation. People seem to act as if blindness is a debilitating and life-ending diagnosis. There is a stigma toward us that we are incapable of being able. Sometimes I do feel the pressure to assimilate into society’s definition and expectations of blindness. I felt the need to make sure that the people around me felt comfortable around my blindness, when in fact they were the ones who made me feel uncomfortable.

Theatre always provides a stage for creating and sharing stories for all who welcome it. William Shakespeare said it best when he informed us that “We are not ourselves, when nature, being oppressed, commands the mind to suffer with the body” (King Lear, Act 2 Scene 4). Theatre has allowed me to create and sustain my authenticity. I am in an environment in which I can be what I want to be and express what I want to feel. Theatre has been a teacher for me about the world around me as I explore and self-discover about people and love, life, and the human condition. Theatre has given me my shot to be me and truly abled me.

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