My freshman year of high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a school wide play competition. Each grade presented a student-written and directed one act play and competed against the other grades to see who had the best performance. While I don’t remember what place we got in the competition, it was still an awesome way to try something new, make new friends, and strengthen existing friendships. Here are some of my tips on participating in theater with low vision.
Talk to the director, if necessary, about your disability
Since I had been friends with the director of the play back in middle school, they already knew I had terrible eyesight and it never even occurred to them that my vision impairment would be a problem. The drama teacher was mildly worried, but trusted the director that everything would be fine. If I had needed to convince someone to let me participate in theater, I would have shown my IEP and requested accommodations using that. Here is my post on explaining extracurricular accommodations.
Ask for the script in large print
For small productions, getting an entire copy of the script in large print is usually easy to do. For more intricate productions, it may be more difficult. If large print is impossible to get, use a magnifier or see if you can get a digital copy of the script loaded onto an iPad or similar device.
Memorize lines as quickly as possible
When it comes to printed materials, the larger the print is, the more paper there is, and therefore the finished materials can be very heavy. I had about twenty lines in the play and memorized them all before the first rehearsal so I didn’t have to worry about carrying the script.
When in doubt, improvise
Can’t figure out what a line says? Improvise! Do not spend more than ten seconds trying to figure out what a word says. Often times my best lines were the ones I improvised.
Do not remove your glasses
This was never an issue for me, but if you need to wear your tinted glasses for photosensitivity, do not let anyone try to convince you to go without them. Having your eyes burning on stage, where lights are typically brighter, is not a fun experience. Also, it can be interpreted as discrimination.
Have someone on stage be a guide
I’d known about half of my fellow cast members since elementary/middle school, and the other half were band students that eventually became some of my close friends. As a result, they were used to my vision impairment, and were happy to help guide me on stage and make sure I didn’t fall over the edge. For one scene, I always stayed close to another cast member who helped me navigate around the crowded stage.
Request no sharp lighting
Because of my photosensitivity, I never had the spotlight directly on me or bright lights shining in my face. It’s rather hard to concentrate when it feels like your eyes are on fire, after all.
Have someone verbally announce stage cues
Often times, stage cues are given using a series of hand gestures, often from the other side of the stage. I always had someone give me a verbal cue for when to go on stage, and this helped me from not going on stage too early or too late because I couldn’t see my cue.
No flash photography
The director and school staff reminded the audience several times not to use flash photography, mentioning it was dangerous for the people on stage. If people tell you this is a ridiculous request, tell them that this is a policy for Broadway plays and other professional performances, and the same courtesy should be extended to this production.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong on stage, or that you shouldn’t participate in theater because of your low vision. After all, you belong. Theater is an awesome experience, and every student should be able to participate in it, regardless of their disability. There are many talented actors and actresses with disabilities, as well as characters from popular movies, TV shows, and plays.
I’m grateful that I was able to be included in theater, at least for one production, and that no one seemed to care that I had low vision or ran into walls a lot. The theater community I have found is very accepting of differences, and I encourage anyone who is considering participating in theater to try it at least once.