Spring 2021 End-of-Semester Updates from ACC Drama
The set for The Sightless
Set Design by Tomas Salas and Joe Kelley
Lights & Media Design by Rachel Atkinson
Photo by Perry Crafton
Letter from the Director of The Sightless
Perry Crafton

I’ll be honest. I selected this play because it’s “Covid-friendly:” there is very little inherent movement by the characters and they can remain 6-feet apart for the majority of the action. As a department, adhering to ACC’s Covid-19 guidelines and procedures was part of how we received permission to utilize our facilities prior to the reopening of any campus. Gratefully, our administration was very understanding that part of our students’ training of is the rehearsal process and the creation of a fully realized production. And so, I committed to The Sightless.
I first encountered this play while teaching “Introduction to Theatre;” the textbook mentioned Maurice Maeterlinck’s work as an example of Symbolist theatre in the late 1800’s. Curiosity led me to purchase the play, and I knew that I wanted to eventually explore it in production. The COVID restrictions led to just that opportunity, so chalk this up to another positive story that is a result of the pandemic.
As I delved into the story, I quickly realized one thing that I wanted the audience to grasp. These characters are in a helpless situation. By and large, they are helpless themselves. But perceptions of the abilities of the disabled have changed significantly from 1890 to 2021, and I did not want to keep these characters disempowered by their helplessness. I wanted them to discover the ability they have to overcome their situation. Moreover, I wanted the audience to want the characters to want to help themselves. I oriented this as the source of suspense and tension in the action, and hence, my directorial vision.  
In our brief 4-week rehearsal time, the cast and I focused on the text itself, and how this tension existed through words, subtext, inferences and other dynamics. When you combine that with the experience of a blind person and their general behavior, then you discover the aesthetic richness in the dialogue, and how sometimes a lack of movement is in itself a form of movement. By simply increasing the want to move, to speak, to listen, to risk or to hope, the audience participates in that want. And when a single character finally risks putting his “want” into an action, not only do the other characters follow, the audience follows as well. There is a beautiful lesson in that.  
Perry Crafton

Dramaturg’s Note
(Photo: A 1906 illustration of the play by Nicholas Roerich)
In his review of Kristjan Thorgeirsson’s 2005 production of The Sightless, critic David Kornhaber identifies the real rub for contemporary production teams: “To present the drama unchanged is to exploit a damaging stereotype of the helpless blind man or woman for the purposes of dramatic tension. To change the text itself is to neutralize an effectively suspenseful situation.” Maeterlink’s original script relies on a convention called “dramatic prosthesis” wherein the character’s disability (here blindness) is the source of dramatic tension: to alter it is to deflate the script, yet to produce it directly as written is to reproduce harmful stereotypes of disability.

As a dramaturg, I find these kinds of scriptural challenges exciting, or at the very least, an excellent jumping off point for my research, textual analysis, and eventually the arsenal of tactics I can present to director’s, designers and actors to make the production nuanced and specific. One of the first things I noticed in the script is that it contained beautiful moments of synaesthesia: a condition where “neurons and synapses that are usually contained within one sensory system cross to another” (https://mymodernmet.com/synesthesia-art/), for instance, “hearing” color or “feeling” visual cues. As one character says in the script: “I think there are stars; I hear them.” In researching the play, I was delighted to learn that this was not accidental: the medical community discovered synaesthesia just before the rise of the Symbolism in art. In fact, writers such as Baudelaire, who inspired Materlinck and other visual and theatrical artists of the genre, used synaesthesia as a literary device in their poetry to convey meaning beyond language, a kind of truth of the soul.
This early discovery led me to pay closer attention to all of the text’s sensory cues and language. While the characters cannot see, they touch, smell, hear, and taste their way through the play with far more precision than those of us who rely on visual information might. This, in turn, led me to research various types of blindness (i.e., loss of peripheral vision vs. distance vision vs. loss of near vision) and how specific types of low-vision and blind folks navigate without sight (from echolocation to sensory awareness training, to name just a few tactics). Translating research onto physical bodies is one of my favorite dramaturgical activities. Hence, I looked to contemporary examples that have been lauded for their representations of blind characters or who employ blind actors, most notably the Apple TV series SEE and Netflix’s DAREDEVIL. We watched clips in our zoom rehearsals, noting how characters turned their ears rather than their eyes toward stimuli and how they actively created stimuli—such as sound—to expertly orient themselves. I created a meditation to help the actors activate their non-visual senses, and some of the actors had already begun to rehearse wearing blindfolds. In our in-person rehearsals, we used on our feet character mapping to identify the senses each individual character oriented toward—primarily sound, touch and smell—and to work through how to physicalize those specific strengths.
In keeping with Perry Crafton’s directorial vision, “to want the audience to want the characters to help themselves,” this work on the part of the actors changed the meaning of helplessness in the script. The actors moved with confidence when the script oriented them toward their dominant non-visual sense, and moved without it (or didn’t move at all) when that connection was broken. From this perspective, their helplessness became more of a choice: whether or not they were choosing to use their innate and learned abilities rather than being innately without ability itself. Perry’s excellent direction, coupled with the nuance the actors brought to each their character’s blindness, allowed the production to balance the challenge Kornhaber raises above: to faithfully enact the script while avoiding re-producing and re-enforcing the outdated “dramatic prosthesis” embedded within it.

-Carrie Kaplan, Dramaturg
Actor Reflections

photo credit: Perry Crafton
In addition to the challenges embedded in the script itself, the rehearsal rehearsal and production process for THE SIGHTLESS under COVID presented a unique experience for both the production team and the actors. Below, the acting ensemble reflects on the following questions:
How has your process been different for this production? What challenges have you faced and what creative work arounds have you found? Is there anything you've discovered in working under these unique circumstances that you'd actually carry forward into future productions?
“I got into acting during COVID, so it is actually all I know of production. This production allowed us to have our own personal spaces with a bit of movement near one another as long as we wore masks, and although no official tests were needed, our temp was taken at the door to the school, and we sanitized the places that we used. Honestly, the biggest difficulties that came with this play were not even the regulations we had to endure, but the memorization and understanding of how to act blind, which have nothing to do with COVID.
I think I honestly will miss the zoom rehearsals when COVID ends, because they allow actors and directors to think more about the complications, philosophies, struggles, deeper meanings, etc. of the play together than they would in a normal rehearsal setting. I also hope that streaming or video recordings of productions stick around to allow more people to see productions. I think the thing I will absolutely not miss at all from COVID theatre is the constant fear that if anybody got sick at all, it would completely destroy the performance. I hope I never have to deal with that looming fear ever again!”
           -Matthew Linder
“The process for this production was much more straight-forward and to the point, as time was of the essence. I feel like I struggled with movement and connection in the show and social distancing and safety measures just became another obstacle (but still very important to follow!). However character relationship webs, sensory/mindfulness exercises, and effort actions seemed to be helpful when working on the show and I would continue to use those exercises post covid as well.
-Chloe Nichols
My experience in THE SIGHTLESS really showed me the importance of physicality in performance, and how important it is to be present while you are performing or rehearsing.  In a zoom rehearsal, you can’t pick up on other people’s energy and you don’t get to see their entire physicality (usually just facial expressions), and that affects how your character might respond to another character. I also had trouble staying “in the moment” at times due to home distractions and not being physically present with the other actors. When we performed in the space, I responded differently and my lines felt more authentic. I’m not just watching the screen and listening for my next line, I’m actually seeing their body language and movements and I can feel their energy: how they move affects how I respond and vice versa.
Initially, I had trouble relating to my character’s experience and how she handled the situation that she is in. The Oldest Blind Woman has the best hearing ability in the group, and she also the most faith out of the group. I focused on these 2 traits to better relate to my character. Relying primarily on sound changed so much about how I work and move on stage. Incorporating meditation into my process was also super cool; it helped me connect more with other senses besides sight and to become more present. This was essential to portray my character, but I also now see it as an essential part of any performance. I plan to incorporate techniques to become more present into future performances and to practice REALLY listening on stage. 
-Lilja Macki
This production was different in that I had to wear a mask, not that I mind it. I was happy to see all the effort that was put into being COVID safe. The zoom meetings were new to me for acting. I’m used to standing in a certain spot and using that to remember my lines. This was difficult even when we did rehearse in person since we all had to be a certain distance from each other.
I also found it hard to remember my lines since I could not gesture as much. Gesturing is another method I like to use to remember my lines.
I have to say that I cannot think of much that I would carry forward in future productions.
I did like the puppets; they were fun to work with I would like to work with them again going forward. Overall, this was an interesting experience and will definitely go on my list of very different productions I have worked on.
-Maria Patterson

photo credit: Perry Crafton
The process of working on a show during COVID was, of course, not ideal. In the end, however, it was completely worth it for the opportunity to have an artistic outlet after all this time of creative inactivity. COVID did speed up the timeline, and there were fewer chances to get valuable time in person to dive character work. Luckily with how short the show was in run time, around 50 minutes or so, we were able to get things off the ground just in time.
Recording to stream instead of performing for a live audience was also a much different process, but since this show was picked specifically for this type of process the effects were mitigated as much as they could have been. Had the show been a comedy where the actors and audience are reliant on the audience for energetic feedback, I don’t believe this process would have worked. I think one thing that might be retained to a smaller degree in the future is the format of having some zoom rehearsals to just run lines with people. I think that there would be efficient ways to use this rehearsal tool even in a post-COVID landscape.
           -Nick Davila
This was definitely a very interesting production to work on, and I think we all learned some valuable things we’ll carry forward! In the past, I relied a lot on the physical contact I could make between myself and other characters on stage to tell the story of our relationship. With such limited physical interactions between our characters in this show, building those relationships was a lot different. It was more of a question of “who would you listen to” rather than “who would you feel comfortable being close to?” Another big difference was in learning to ignore what I was seeing and reacting to all of the other senses we have at our disposal. In doing that, I learned a lot more about my space and noticed things from my ensemble that I wouldn’t have before; I hope that I can carry that awareness with me into future productions! With the limited time in the space that we had because of COVID precautions, there were a lot of little challenges we had to overcome. We had to learn new ways to memorize, as a lot of actors use their early in person rehearsal and blocking to help with that. We also had to translate the work we were doing on zoom into our in-person rehearsals, which I think helped us learn to do a lot of independent character work. Overall, I think this show was a valuable learning experience for all of us, even with all of the challenges COVID presented to us! 
-Devon Mitchell
Working as a performer and a designer during a pandemic is definitely not how I envisioned theater being done when I started this profession 11 years ago. Being able to do a traditional process for The Sightless would have had a different outcome, but the pandemic version definitely made problem-solving to overcome social distancing and sanitary and safety regulations a learning process. When faced with obstacles, it really does make the whole approach on a show difficult and very foreign for traditional theater practitioners. Having to focus on acting, blocking, physicality and mentality on different assigned days meant the show only literally came together right before we performed. This is not at all how I normally would prepare myself as an actor. However, I am very, very pleased with the end result of hard work and collaboration towards the show we ended up performing for our public virtually. Is this how I would want to do theater in the future? Not exactly. But if this is how we can do theater for right now? Absolutely. 
-Marcus Speed
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Interview by Jamie Rogers
Where are you from?

I was born in Victoria, Texas, but I have moved around Austin and its suburbs for most of my life.

Were you involved in theatre when you were in high school? Any past theatre experience on stage or behind the scenes?

I did Theatre at Meridian World School and Rouse High School, a semester of college in Oklahoma for a BFA Theatre Performance Major, and a little background work while I was out of school. 

What were the reasons you decided to enroll at Austin Community College? 

I stopped attending university in Oklahoma primarily due to out of state tuition costs and personal issues. It took me a while to find my footing but I knew I wanted to go back to school when I felt ready and the cards just fell into place for me this semester at ACC!

Any favorite classes in the Drama Department and why? Important
things you have learned so far?

I enjoy Perry’s Acting II class quite a lot! His grounding in Uta Hagen makes his lessons flow from one to the next; his coaching brings good observations, and encourages discovery as well as choices. Perry has this ability when I am having trouble figuring out a specific tactic in a scene and I just put something that only kinda works, he just knows and picks it apart to find a better fit.

You have been cast and are currently in rehearsals for our spring 2021
production of The Sightless. Can you tell us a bit about what character
you are playing? And what has the rehearsal process been like?

I am playing the Second Blind Person (who was a man in the original script, but who cares?) in this production and it has been really enjoyable. My character is of the three who were born blind, and while she is reactive as the others who were born blind there are moments of clarity when my character senses certain things or she wants to do something about the situation they are in. The rehearsals have been half in person and half on Zoom for COVID safety and the staging is also adjusted, but the cast has all meshed together quite well despite the distance. 
Chloe in performance for The Sightless
Photo credit: Stella McGriffy

Any favorite ACC Drama Production?

I might be biased because I have only experienced one production, but The Sightless seems cool! I can’t wait to see what else ACC does during my time here though!

Do you attend school and have outside employment? If so, how do
you find a balance between work and drama department involvement?

I do part time at ACC and part time working at Whole Foods. It is my first semester back in school after a few years and I was hoping to dip my toes in slowly so I could balance work and school but I got way too excited about the idea of doing a show again. I won’t say it was easy, but it is important to know what your limits may be and hopefully have understanding coworkers and managers to help when your schedule gets weird.

Any overall advice to give to current Drama Majors on ways to get them involved in the Department?

I think it is important to remember you only get out of your schooling what you put into it. It is definitely a bit harder with Covid and personal circumstances but I think the most important thing is to contribute and collaborate on your education with your professors, they are there to help you! Also just speaking to classmates candidly when you can (admittedly a harder task to do with the zoom environment) just to know what they are working on or interested in just gets you connected more as a whole.

What does the future hold?

Gosh, who knows? There are a lot of possibilities, I just wanna do something I will enjoy. I am fond of theatre and if I could get any job where I might get to do something with that I’d be happy. There are a lot of things I want to do, but I think right now I am just taking the time to figure out exactly what I want to do in the future!
Registration for Summer 2021
ACC Drama AA and AAS Courses now open!
DR. HEATHER BARFIELD'S work was cited in Mikhaiel, Yasmin Zacaria, et al. "Highlights from ATHE 2020: Theory and Criticism Focus Group: Spare Parts." Theatre Topics, vol. 31 no. 1, 2021, p. E-1-E-2. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/tt.2021.0000.
She also presented work at the Fulbright Association Conference, the Community Colleges for International Development Conference and with the ACC Global Issues Speaker Series.

GREG ROMERO'S short play, The Elephant and the Light in Claire's Suitcase, was presented by The Tank in New York City as part of the event, "Weird Plays for a Weird Year: A Curated Anthology of Weirdness". Greg's collaborators included a mix of Austin-based artists (Liz Fisher, Amber Quick, and Will Cleveland) and NYC-based theater-makers.

JAMIE ROGERS directed the musical Pippin with the senior-level Palace Performance Company at the Georgetown Palace Theatre May 21st-23rd.


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