Lake Oswego director enlists expert to help actor play blind
Lakewood Theatre Company Executive Producer Steve Knox knew he wanted to include "Wait Until Dark" in its 67th season lineup of live theater productions, and he knew just who he wanted to direct it: Nancy McDonald.
McDonald's directing work at Lakewood includes four new plays for Fertile Ground and Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Nile," which won four OTAS awards, including Best Play and Best Director. She was intimately familiar with "Wait Until Dark," having played the role of Susan in a production in Ohio "back in the day." She had ideas on how to make the thriller seem more authentic and even more chilling for Lakewood audiences. The first: teach Susan, played by actress Taylor Jean Grady, to be blind.
To accomplish that McDonald called on Megan Jolly to provide technical assistance. Jolly, a development director in the nonprofit sector, lost her sight about five years ago due to an accident. With the help from Oregon Commission for the Blind she learned to adjust to a sightless world. Through OCB she relearned technology, mobility and life skills to become a fully functioning blind person.
Jolly helped Grady learn how to "act" blind for her role.
"She had me practice blindfolded," said Grady of how Jolly taught her. "I had to get used to not using sight." Though she could actually see she had to remind herself that she couldn't automatically reach for her purse or for the telephone like she ordinarily would.
"I had to deliberately place my purse where I knew I could find it again," she said. "A blind person would have a place for everything so they could find them again."
To accommodate that Jolly helped design the set for the play.
Jolly taught Grady to rely on her sense of feel to move about the stage, using a cane and feeling for new textures like floor rugs. She had tips on how to dial a rotary telephone, too.
"I taught her to use a cane, and how to interpret what the cane tells you," Jolly said.
The two women recalled the first blindfolded walk they took together. Jolly taught Grady to feel the end of the pavement, bushes and other hints of the surroundings. Grady said the most challenging task was learning to walk upstairs then doing it in a panicky fashion.
"It was scary, but I had Megan," Grady said.
McDonald says her new adaptation of "Wait Until Dark" sees Susan enraged at being blind, and that blindness for her represents not just staying alive but having a life.
Grace says the most difficult part of acting blind is in the "little moments."
"I have to focus on acting without using my eyes, (which usually portray a great deal of emotion)," she said. "I add a lot of emotion to scenes by clutching items."
McDonald says Jolly is a prime example of blind person who lives a full and productive life.
"She has never given up," McDonald said.
"Being blind isn't as scary as you think," Jolly said. "There are two assumptions: That you are either helpless or a superhero. We are still people."
"Megan is a bridge builder," McDonald said. "She is helping us immerse the audience into the world of the blind."
"Wait Until Dark" is about Susan Hendrix, a blind Greenwich Village housewife, who becomes the target of ruthless con men who set up an elaborate charade in order to get their hands on a mysterious doll. As the tension mounts and the house plunges into darkness, can she outwit the murderous visitors?
The play runs through Feb. 16 with 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday through Sunday, 2 p.m. matinees on select Sundays and Sunday evening performances at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $34 for adults, $32 for seniors and $20 for students. Purchase tickets online at Lakewood-center.org or call the box office at 503-635-3901.
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