The Spectator & the Blind Man: Stories of Seeing & Not-Seeing
The Spectator & the Blind Man – from my mind’s eye to yours!
By Dr ML Godin
In order to avoid any embarrassing portrayals of blind people, I decided to make the three sighted actors who are playing blind people actually blind. No, I am not asking them to pull an Oedipus and put out their eyes, but I am making them wear spectacles through which they cannot see in two cases and in the third a blindfold. When Leslie Goshko, who will be playing the lovely blind pianist with a dark past put on her gold introspectacles (thanks to Mary Cool for that neologism!), she said this sucks! Haha! Welcome to my world! I love directing!
But in truth the show is less about physical blindness and more about all the strange permutations of metaphorical blindness especially those moments where the gaze of the mind’s eye turns inward and no longer sees or is interested in seeing the outside world. It is blindness born out of solipsism as much as out of the need for insight. It is the blindness of the artist and performer who must to a certain extent shut out the outside world in order to give birth to the inner one.
My dear friend Nellie King Solomon, who’s painting of the Café of the Blind was inspired by the first story “How I Became a Cyclops,” was my first listener. Right away she related to the idea of self exploitation and the implicit blindness that accompanies it. The Cyclops, played by Bill Chambers, wishes “to be an entertainer,” despite his awareness of the exploitation and ridicule of his blindness. It is a blast to be in front of an audience making them laugh and dance and hurl money at you, and that thrill does not diminish simply because you are the butt of your own joke. Consider any self deprecating comedian or one who’s main shtick is his identity as someone who is different from the norm. Uniqueness in entertainment is ubiquitous, and I don’t think there are any easy answers about where exploitation begins or ends, especially in this YouTube world where individual quirkiness can reach a mass audience.
The Spectator & the Blind Man is also about the egocentrism that prompts autobiographical storytelling. One must assume that some portion of her life experience will be interesting to her listeners. The show makes light of the petty side of introspection where the inner monologue of doubts and self derision are conflated with a sense of purpose and certainty of one’s unique place in the world. The six stories of Seeing and Not-seeing are reflections of myself and the people I know, who are struggling to make their way in the world as artists, inventors and philanthropists. As the director, I hope very much that my audience will see that greatness is not a monolithic structure but a process where giving birth to something new is riddled with doubt, pomposity, and crazy talk!
This project started a long long time ago in the basement of a certain New York university library and climaxes on stage at the Frigid fest in February! The show traces a jagged arc from sideshow spectacle to the invention of Braille, a curious story told in countless books on the history of the education of the blind, Here told by individuals who are more or less blind to the grand history in which they play. If that is true of the storytellers acting in my play of speculative fiction, it is also true of myself and my collaborators and our audiences who, in addition to having a raucous good time, will be involved in a political statement without really having to be aware of it and without really knowing what the end game might be. Disability and/in the arts is under construction and I’m not sure anyone can predict what the cultural ramifications will be.
At NYTheatre.com I boldly completed their prompt “my show is the only one opening this season that…has a blind writer, director, and costume designer with a sighted cast for all kinds of audiences.” Maybe that’s not true, but it feels like it is – if anyone knows another please correct me and we’ll call it a trend!
This is my first directorial experience, if one does not count all the self-directing that goes into solo performance. I am for the first time responsible for the interpretation of my words by another human being and it is exhilarating and terrifying! When asked what it was like having a blind director Bill Chambers answered: “Having a blind director makes me a lot more conscious of the lyrical nuances in my delivery. Otherwise, she is just as obnoxious and egotistical as any other director I’ve worked with.” You bet! I want my actors to show off the beauties and intricacies of my script and will accept nothing less than brilliance with material so precious to me!
I am so proud to present The Spectator & the Blind Man at this year’s Frigid Festival – Thanks Horse Trade for letting me splatter my inner landscape all over the Kraine stage!