I lost my sight in 1985 and have been using a screen reader to read and write ever since — assistive technology allows me to do my job monitoring the Easter Seals blog. I was honored to hear you contacted Easter Seals to ask if I’d write a guest post for Handicap This and thought it might be appropriate for me to post something about my switch from movies to live theatre.
It took about a year for me to lose my eyesight completely. My husband Mike and I still went to movies that year, in- between eye surgeries.
If I sat still, I could find gaps in what was left of my sight. I learned to stare at the center of the screen. That’s where most of the action was. I saw Prince’s body in Purple Rain, Darryl Hanna’s fin in Splash. I remember the round hat on the little boy in Witness. Other movies were harder. The Cotton Club and Amadeus were way too dark. My night vision was gone – hemorrhages, combined with the laser beams surgeons were using to save my eyesight, had left me helpless in the dark.
Until the screen lit up I was totally blind in a movie theater. Mike used his newfound expertise as a guide, directing me to a seat, warning me about the steps. Dress rehearsal for what would become everyday life.
For most movies I didn’t need his play-by-play; I had enough sight left to figure out who was saying what to whom, and I was learning to use my listening skills more efficiently.
But then we went to a foreign movie.
I know some French, but I couldn’t concentrate on the dialogue while working so hard to see what was on the screen. And the subtitles scuttled by too quickly. We walked out on La Cage aux Folles, the first time I’d ever left a movie before it was over.
It wasn’t the last time, though. My eyesight got worse. A year later it was gone completely. I kept trying at movies, but finally decided they were more work then fun.
That’s when I discovered theatre.
I don’t go to the big shows – never saw Les Mis or Phantom of the Opera, nothing like that. To me, those are just like the movies – lots of visual effects and action.
I prefer the little theatres. Small casts – easier to keep track of who’s who – and few scene changes. In a small theatre, every seat is close to the stage. No need for anyone whispering to me about someone entering or leaving the scene – I hear the door slam. I can even hear the actors walk across the stage.
That’s why I was so excited to read about Handicap This Productions. I checked out your events page and it looks like you did plenty of Chicago gigs last year. I’m hoping – and expecting — that will be the case again in 2013. I look forward to seeing (okay, hearing!) you two on stage.
About Beth Finke:
NPR commentator Beth Finke is the author of the award-winning memoir Long Time, No See (University of Illinois Press) and Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound (Blue Marlin Publications,), a winner of the ASPCA Henry Bergh award for children’s literature. Her most recent publication, Lend Me a Paw was published by National Geographic School Publishing last year.
Beth is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and teaches weekly memoir-writing classes for senior citizens (sponsored by the City of Chicago’s Commission on Aging). She works part-time at Easter Seals Headquarters moderating their blog and is a regular contributor to Bark magazine’s Bark Blog. You can follow her adventures with her Seeing Eye dog Whitney at her personal “Safe & Sound blog”: