BPI Members Star In Original Play
Four members of Blind LGBT Pride International–Connor Head, Caitlin Hernandez, Megan Miller, and Guillermo Robles–have been working on an original play which is being produced by CRE Outreach, a Los Angeles-based company which hosts the only acting troupe in the country consisting solely of blind actors. The premise of the play, entitled Losing It, was conceptualized by the blind and visually impaired actors and actresses, who are collectively known as Theatre By the Blind, or, more affectionately, TBTB. The show was written by Caitlin Hernandez, directed by Greg Shane, the artistic director of CRE Outreach, and assistant-directed by Pelita Dasalla; it opens on November 14th at the Promenade Playhouse in Santa Monica and will run for two weekends.
Losing It follows Sandra Jones, a renowned theater director who is about to spearhead a production of the musical Jekyll and Hyde. The stars of her upcoming production include a quirky but tender-hearted Russian exchange student, played with both comedy and warmth by Head; a small-town actress with big dreams, played with touching relatability and affecting honesty by Miller; and a famous actor who, as poignantly and vulnerably depicted by Robles, is severely addicted to drugs and uses acting as a way to avoid his demons. As Sandra Jones struggles to unify this motley cast enough to create a block-buster production, a wrench is thrown into her plans: her vision is deteriorating, causing her to lose sight, not just of the world around her, but of her own goals, aspirations, and self-confidence. Hernandez, who has now written three plays for CRE Outreach, including an original musical, scripted Losing It with the specific intention of crafting characters which were both similar to and different from the actors who would bring them to life. “Since I know all the cast members well, I get to write with their personalities and talents in mind, and I love that. For instance, all three of the BPI contingent can sing, so I wanted to take advantage of that and show off their voices. Connor and Megan were both in the last play I wrote, Walk Me Home, so I wanted to mix things up for them and give them very new, different characters. But I also wanted to write roles that would retain the things I love most about their acting, like Connor’s silliness and Megan’s ability to play a lot of different emotions. This is Guillermo’s first play with TBTB, and I wanted to write a really edgy, complicated character for him: someone who had a lot going on beneath the surface.”
Robles rose to the challenge and, much to the surprise of all involved, found that he and his character had many things in common. This has both helped and hindered his acting experience: helped because the emotions he plays become very real, and hindered because those real emotions were often overwhelming. “When I was growing up, both my mother and my youngest aunt dealt with drug addiction and alcoholism. From childhood to adulthood, I have been able to see the roller coaster they were on and how easy it was to be sucked into it all. Like my character, I tried to pretend that everything was all right. Now that rehearsals for the play are over, I feel like I have a lot more compassion for those facing addiction. I was able to come to terms with how and what I was raised with.”
Though Miller, to a degree, relates personally to her role as well, she has also enjoyed the chance to step outside herself: “It has been good for me to get out of my comfort zone, and really put myself into this character. It has really helped me, as an actress, to be challenged to do and say things I wouldn’t normally; it makes me really dig down deep, leave myself behind, and become the character.” Miller also appreciates the benefits of Theatre By the Blind in and of itself: “We’re all treated like people. Our personalities, talents, and strengths are appreciated and valued for what they are rather than overblown or undervalued because of our visual impairments. There is no coddling us because we’re blind, no telling us we can’t do something; TBTB makes it possible for us to really shine.” Head, the youngest cast member, not only views his fellow cast mates as friends, but as role models who prove to him daily that blindness is not as much of an obstacle as he sometimes fears. “I used to think that me being blind was like a factory defect. I almost began to think that, if and when I lost all my sight, I’d be done, broken. But after doing TBTB plays, and hearing everyone’s story, I don’t care so much. I’d rather not lose the rest of my sight, but if I do, then I think I’ll be able to deal with it just fine, because I’ve seen people who have. If I lose my sight, I’ll keep going, because, simply put, they all did it. It’s really made me feel much more hopeful for my own future.”
Robles is currently interning for CRE Outreach; he is assisting with the fundraising and planning for an upcoming trip to Wales, which is one of very few other countries to host an all-blind acting troupe like TBTB. Head, Hernandez, and Miller are also planning on attending. Through his work with CRE, Robles has been exposed to their other missions as well; these include teaching homeless veterans, at-risk youth, and children with autism. “I believe that the one thing that joins all three of these targeted groups is that we are constantly striving to improve our lives by learning more about ourselves through theatre,” says Robles. “For me, personally, it’s a rather unique way in which to educate those who might come to see a show. It also gives a much-needed break from the everyday goings-on that we face in trying to educate the public.”
Greg Shane, who has worked with Theatre By the Blind for ten years, feels that Losing It, more than TBTB’s other productions, pushes the typical boundaries, both in terms of its content and in the demands it places upon its actors. “It all comes together in the end, though, because the cast is so supportive of one another,” says Shane. “TBTB isn’t just another acting troupe; it’s a family where everyone is able to grow, and to encourage the people around them to grow as well.”
Losing It will be performed from November 14th through the 23rd. A special performance on the 15th will incorporate audio description for blind and visually impaired audience members. For more information about the production, Theatre By the Blind, and CRE Outreach, please visit www.creoutreach.org. You can also join CRE Outreach on Facebook at www.facebook.com/creoutreach, or follow the company on Twitter at creoutreach.