Photo of actors from the Theatre by the Blind production SIT

Interview: Theatre by the Blind Production ‘Sit’

Today Nearsighted welcomes back singer and actress Caitlin Hernandez, who tells us about Theatre by the Blind’s new production, Sit.

How would it feel being the only child in the neighborhood who never chased, or tumbled, or played hide-and-seek, not because you couldn’t, but because you were forbidden to do so? How would it feel to be the only student in your school who didn’t walk to class on your own, not because you were unable, but because you were never permitted to, because no one ever gave you the tools to be independent? How would it feel being the only child in your family who never had a voice, not because you relished silence, but because you were ordered, constantly, to listen, to wait, to stay still, to sit meekly in your chair by the window?

For Sheila Walker, the only blind child in her family and the youngest girl among seven siblings, this was reality. But, to Sheila, “that’s the past. I need to acknowledge that it happened, but I also need to acknowledge that it’s over.”

Now, Sheila has three children and six grandchildren. She travels confidently with her guide dog. She is an artist and an actress. She is happy.

When she heard Sheila’s story, Lindsay Nyman, a 24-year-old actress, writer, and director who works with CRE Outreach’s Theatre by the Blind, knew instantly that it would make a moving, informative play. Walker agreed: “There are still kids going through what I went through. I want this play to help parents listen to what their children are trying to tell them. Kids want freedom. I want parents to see what their kids can do instead of holding them back. Let them play and be just like everybody else. They’ll get bumps and bruises, make mistakes, and fall. All parents need to do is let their kids know that, every time, they’ll be there to pick them up and send them right back out.”

While drafting the script based on Walker’s life, Nyman knew that retelling such a sensitive story would be emotionally challenging for Walker. But early on, it was evident that the play would be a success.

“I knew it would be a fine line between going deep and not making Sheila’s life unravel,” says Nyman. “But that’s what’s great about our cast: they’re all so supportive of each other. We’re all different ages and from different places, but it doesn’t matter. Doing something personal like this took us to a place that was very deep and meaningful. You really get into each other’s souls that way.”

Initially, Walker had also been concerned about playing her former self in a fictionalized version of her experience. “It would be like reliving that part of my life over again. And even though I knew it was just a play, the feelings were still real. For many years, I succeeded in putting all that on the back-burner. But through the play, I had so much support and love. I never had that kind of support when I was growing up. It’s a lot easier to handle everything now than it was then.”

Under Nyman’s sensitive direction, the cast of seven blind and visually impaired actors worked together to bring Walker’s story to the stage. When the play opens, Walker’s character, Tamara, is isolated and overprotected by her father. Rather than see her get hurt, he confines her to the house, not allowing her to use a cane or go anywhere unattended by family. With the help of her sister and the encouragement of her English teacher, Tamara ultimately finds and shapes a new, full life for herself.

“The play is about Sheila’s life,” Nyman says, “but it’s also about being brave. It brings up a lot of questions. ‘What does it mean to control someone? To be a hero? To help someone? Who should we listen to?”‘ What’s so beautiful about this story — about who Sheila is — is that Sheila’s character is her own hero. She saves herself.”

To learn more about Sit and Theatre by the Blind, the only theater troupe in the country composed entirely of blind actors, visit www.creoutreach.org.

 

Photo by Lyssa Samuel, courtesy of CRE Outreach

Belo Cipriani View more

Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He is a disability advocate, a spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and is currently the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine -- a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work.