When I was in elementary, middle, and high school, I took a few different theater and drama classes at school and through summer camps, and had the opportunity to participate in a few different stage activities such as one-act plays and talent showcases. I prefer to write my own plays and scripts now over acting in them, but the strategies I learned for participating in theater classes and drama productions have been valuable as I have learned to feel more confident walking on stage and off-stage as well. Here are my tips for participating in theater and drama programs with low vision, from the perspective of a student with low vision and photophobia (light sensitivity)
Talking to the director ahead of time
When I have the opportunity to be on stage, I tell the director before my audition that I have low vision and talk about accommodations I might need, including a large print script or having the option to walk across the stage on my own and become familiar with it before my audition. For a one-act play I was in, the director was another student who I had known for years, so they already were familiar with my vision loss and I didn’t have to disclose my disability to them- in fact, they surprised me with a large print script!
I later found out that the student director had talked to the main drama teacher about my disability, and the director mentioned being worried that I would fall off the stage or have another barrier (I had never met this teacher before my audition). They told the student director that we would need to figure things out on our own, which is something we felt comfortable doing. However, if the director had tried to prevent me from participating, I would have shared my IEP accommodations with them and shown how I could use them to participate in the play.
- How I Talk About Disability With New Friends
- Having An Undiagnosed Chronic Illness In High School
- Requesting Extracurricular Accommodations
- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your Disability Accommodations
Getting an accessible copy of the script
Since the one-act play script was short and student-written, I was given a copy in large print and a backup copy in standard print so I could reference lines as needed. Other options for reading scripts with low vision include:
- Getting a digital copy and enlarging the font size myself
- Using a simplified reading display or teleprompter app to display text in large print- this would be great on an iPad for rehearsals
- If this is for a class, AIM-VA or the college assistive technology office can convert the script into an accessible format
- Some scripts are posted in accessible formats on Bookshare
- Using a video magnifier or other tool to read a script on paper
When I am reading through scripts that I’ve written, I prefer to use a Read Aloud tool for reading lines out loud so I can check for mistakes and make sure that I’m not misreading anything.
- How I Document Accessibility Preferences With Low Vision
- Simplified Reading Displays and Low Vision
- Ways To Use Teleprompter Apps As Assistive Technology
- All About AIM-VA
- What To Know About College Assistive Technology Specialists
- Ten Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Bookshare
- Magnifying Glasses For Low Vision
- How To Use Text-To-Speech With Low Vision
I never had a starring role, but all of the roles I’ve had in my theater classes and drama events have had a few dozen lines. Since I find it difficult to carry a script, I worked on memorizing all of my lines before the first rehearsal. I would practice by reading lines on my tablet/phone or reciting them with my eyes closed and checking the script for accuracy.
If I was in a play right now, I would use my Amazon Alexa to help me with memorizing lines with the custom flashcard skill- I would make the “question” the line that comes before mine, and then say my line as the “answer”, and check for accuracy. This could also be done with Quizlet on a private notecard set.
- Mainstream Technology and Low Vision: Tablets
- Mainstream Technology and Low Vision: Smartphones
- Creating Custom Flashcards With Amazon Alexa
- How I Use Quizlet With Low Vision
Costumes and glasses
Some people remove their glasses while on stage, but I can’t do that for safety reasons- when I had a director that insisted I remove my glasses, I told them that I would not be able to do so without falling off the stage in the process. For some performances, I’ve worn sunglasses, but usually for theater events I wear my standard non-polarized tinted prescription glasses.
As for costumes, a lot of the things I wear on stage are items I already owned or that I borrowed from a friend, or would layer comfortable and breathable clothing underneath items. Following an incident where I fell down backstage wearing heeled shoes with laces, I switched to flats with better traction and never had any issues with falls again.
- How I Respond To Questions/Comments About My Glasses
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Using a guide on stage
A lot of cast members in the plays I’ve been in were my friends, so they felt comfortable helping me move around on stage as needed, or helping me map out where to walk on stage. There was tape on the edge of the stage so that I could see where the platform ended, and I practiced walking around during rehearsals so I could feel more at ease with walking.
I didn’t use a blindness cane when I was in high school, and didn’t feel like I needed my cane on stage in college. Some students may need to use a blindness cane for the first few rehearsals on stage, and as they become more familiar with the stage layout they may be able to go without their cane, as long as stage items are kept in a consistent location.
- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
- Seven Places I Don’t Take My Blindness Cane
- Dance Classes and Low Vision
Adjusting and adapting stage lighting
I’ve never performed on a stage larger than a high school auditorium, so it was easy for me to request no sharp lighting and not having lights rotate to shine directly in my face. None of the productions I was in used strobe or flashing lights while I was on stage. Alternatively, one of the stages my friend and I performed on for a talent showcase had lighting on in the “house”, so we were not performing in a dark space.
Just like in professional productions, flash photography is banned from performances as it can be disorienting for all performers. The director or another staff member would remind audience members about this before the play started, and sometimes would mention that there was a performer with a medical condition triggered by flashing lights.
- How I Play In GMU Green Machine/Pep Band With Low Vision
- Concert Band and Low Vision
- How I Talk To Professors About Photosensitivity
Navigating stage cues
Instead of using hand signals, the stage manager would use verbal stage cues for me, or another performer would whisper cues or tap my hand so that I didn’t miss something. In rehearsals, I would work with other performers to figure out where I needed to go on stage, and how fast I should walk/where to go.
More tips for participating in drama and theater programs with low vision
- Can’t remember a line or can’t read what it says? When in doubt, improvise and fill the silence
- One of my friends who had a lead in their high school play said that they incorporated their blindness cane as a prop, decorating it to go with their character’s costume
- I prefer a tablet or phone for reading scripts or notes, because it is easier for me to position the screen underneath the bifocal in my glasses.
- Want to learn more about making theater accessible for visual impairment and audio description in amateur theater? Learn more in Promoting Cast Involvement In Audio Description