Staging Blindness: The Portrayal of Visual Impairment in Contemporary American Theatre

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Sowers, Adrienne
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
The manner in which theatre depicts marginalized groups and individuals has become an area of major focus for me throughout my studies as a graduate student. What can this medium do to give voice and bring focus to those that are often overlooked or pushed aside by their own culture and society? Where does the medium succeed and fail in doing so? Perhaps these questions arose organically for me personally because I was raised in a household with a "disabled" parent. My mother is legally blind, with a strong likelihood that her vision will deteriorate even further. I placed the term "disabled" within quotation marks because that is how our culture defines her, but she does not define herself in this manner. After witnessing firsthand how one with a visual impairment accommodates her lifestyle and interacts with a world that continually fabricates incorrect assumption after insulting stereotype about what blindness indicates about personality and lifestyle, I turned to my artistic home, my solace: theatre. What is the medium I have devoted my life to providing for the visually impaired? How are we staging the subject of blindness in contemporary American theatres? What types of characters are being written? How are directors and actors portraying these characters? Is anyone even giving blind artists the opportunity to show the world their point of view? From here, this thesis was born: I find it imperative to firmly establish where we are before we have any hope of moving forward. After careful investigation of the statistics of the frequency with which blind characters appear onstage and on film and television, scouring dramatic texts for visually impaired dramatis personae in lead roles, viewing Broadway and Off-Broadway productions seeking guidance from the leaders in the theatrical field, and seeking out companies to make a difference, I believe I have now found a starting point for the blind community and theatre artists to begin a frank discussion about the future of their relationship.