Behind the Scenes With Country's Only Blind-Centric Theatre Company
Theatre by the Blind, the only blind-centric theatre company in the United States, produces original works written and performed by visually-impaired creatives. Their current comedic play, Yesterday's, features a cast of 12 actors and musicians with varying degrees of sightedness, including many totally blind performers. LAist went behind the scenes at Promenade Playhouse to see how Theatre for the Blind brings a show to fruition. We previewed Yesterday's and learned about the fascinating staging techniques employed by this unique troupe of non-traditional actors.
Yesterday's takes place in a fictional struggling Hollywood night club of the same name. Loyal employees and supporters of Yesterday's go to extreme lengths to save their beloved night club from financial ruin while dealing with the underhanded machinations of a greedy and seedy real estate developer that wants to tear the establishment down. Yesterday's features live music (even beatboxing) that is seamlessly folded into the crux of the narrative.
Upon entering the theatre, it becomes immediately evident that this Theatre by the Blind production is a labor of love. Mutual respect abounds among the cast and crew, which to an outsider, bear all of the warm hallmarks of a family. Performers draw on each other's strengths, cooperatively helping one another to find their non-visual blocking cues. Directors Greg Shane and Lindsay Nyman tweak each scene to ensure that lighting is just right and marks are met. Well-intentioned jokes flutter about the cast, a blond-haired guide dog attentively watches his master rehearse on stage, and last-minute costuming matters are attended to in the wings.
Shane, who is also Artistic Director of Theatre by the Blind, cheerily welcomed LAist to Yesterday's tech rehearsal and explained that the actors rely heavily textured surfaces and sound cues finessed into the context of the scene to accomplish blocking. Actors measure the set with their feet, using mats with raised spots to guide them across the stage. Many of the blind actors adeptly use the sound of their peers' voices, heavy door-knocking, or even the gentle chink of a glass being placed on a bar to maneuver around the set. LAist noticed that the all of the cast members navigate the stage quite well regardless of their level or lack of visual acuity.
Many of the performers use theatre to overcome fears after being thrust into blindness in adulthood from reasons that range from domestic abuse to being a shooting victim. Others use it to gain confidence in a dark world that is predisposed to those that can see. Maria Perez, a totally blind, yet utterly vivacious and gracious actress explained that although the Yesterday's actors are blind, they play seeing characters. Perez said that "playing sighted characters is what makes Theatre by the Blind so much fun. We can leave who we are in real life and become that sighted person that moves around easily. We get leave our disability behind when we enter the stage." Perez plays a bratty fashion designer name Vicki in Yesterday, but in real life stands in complete contrast to the personality of her character. With a big smile, Perez described the cast and crew of Theatre by the Blind as her second family.
Yesterday's is playing through May 5 at Promenade Playhouse. Tickets ($20) are available online or via phone at 310-902-8220.