I can't believe I'm telling you this

August 10, 2016 • Posted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, public speaking, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Whitney, writing by

Public speaking comes fairly easy to me. Acting on stage does not. But that’s exactly what I’ll be doing at Victory Gardens Zacek McVay Theater in Chicago this Saturday, August 13 at 2:30 pm.

My class: (Clockwise - Andrew Lund, Beth Finke, Kathleen Guillion, Rukmini Girish, Michele Lee,, Whitney the Seeing Eye Dog, Grishma Shah) Courtesy Neo Futurists.

My class: (Clockwise – Andrew Lund, Beth Finke, Kathleen Guillion, Rukmini Girish, Michele Lee,, Whitney the Seeing Eye Dog, Grishma Shah) Courtesy Neo Futurists.

Some back story. Earlier this year I attended one of two accessible performances of Too Much Light put on by the Neo-Futurists. The Neo-Futurists are a collective of Chicago writers-performers “dedicated to creating honest, unpredictable theatre,” and in Too Much Light productions cast members attempt to perform a perpetually rotating list of two-minute plays in 60 minutes.

After the success of their two accessible performances this year those honest and unpredictable Neo-Futurists took things one step further. They used funds from grants they’d received from The Chicago Community Trust and Alphawood Foundation Chicago, teamed up again with the Victory Gardens Access Project, and offered their popular Intro to Too Much Light playwriting program to a class accessible to performers and writers with and without disabilities. The class was offered free of charge. I couldn’t resist.

The hope was that half of the enrollees would identify as having a disability. The Neo-Futurists achieved their goal. In fact, we outnumber the others: of the seven performers, Two use wheelchairs, I am blind, and one uses a prosthetic arm. .
Over the course of ten three-hour sessions every Saturday (we started on June 4, 2016) the seven of us have:

  • explored the process and tools needed to create a two-minute play
  • followed the Neo-Futurist tenets of honesty, brevity, audience connection and random chance to write plays from our own life experiences
  • examined specific play formulas and styles that are similar to plays performed in Too Much Light
  • pitched a few of our plays to teachers to have them performed Saturday

These productions used to be called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. I’m not sure that they took the Blind word out because I am involved, but must say, I prefer the shortened title.

And while we’re mentioning that blindness of mine, I need to tell you that losing my sight some twenty-odd years ago left me with a unique version of paranoia. While I don’t mind people looking at or listening to me when I’m sitting or standing still (like when I’m giving a talk),  the thought that people might be watching me attempt a task — even one as simple as finding a doorknob — fills me with anxiety.

I started waking up Saturdays wondering why the heck I signed up for this thing. The commute to Victory Gardens isn’t easy, days off work are precious, I stink at memorizing lines, and I hate having people watch me perform.

I liked learning about playwriting, though, and every week I grew more fond of our teachers and my classmates. Most of them have acted before. It was a treat to experience their work, and hear it improve from week to week.

I stayed in class, and was determined to keep news of this Saturday’s performance a secret from my friends. But then last Saturday we had our dress rehearsal.

That's me in the spelling bee piece.

That’s me in the spelling bee piece.

I have speaking parts in a play one classmate wrote about a spelling bee and in one another classmate wrote about a trip overseas. Whitney does not have a speaking part (Seeing Eye dogs are not allowed to bark). She plays a major role in my Dear Boss play, though, so her name is in the program on the cast list.

The four of us with disabilities wrote some plays that address accessibility, and many others that don’t mention it at all. One thing the plays have in common? They’re all pretty good. And so, I’ve changed my mind. Everyone should come this Saturday.

The performance Saturday won’t go any longer than 45 minutes and will feature live captioning and American Sign Language for people who are hard of hearing and audio headphones for people who want the action on stage described. Victory Gardens is wheelchair accessible, and a touch tour of the stage and props will take place ahead of the show for anyone interested.

The play starts at 2:30, so come experience it for yourself on Saturday afternoon, August 13, in Victory Gardens Zacek McVay Theater, 2433 North Lincoln Avenue . No need to RSVP, and no need for tickets, either: It’s free!

Lori On August 10, 2016 at 6:36 am

As a patron of the theater, I’m quite disappointed that this was scheduled at the same time as the beer festival I’ll be at in Madison. Break a leg, Beth!

bethfinke On August 10, 2016 at 6:29 pm

Hoist a Spotted Cow for me, Laurie!

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Dmarta On August 10, 2016 at 7:28 am

I’m sure I’m not the first but I’m pretty sure the performances are Saturday August 13? Good luck! Diana

Sent from my iPhone

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bethfinke On August 10, 2016 at 9:41 am

Oops! I had it right on the top, but somehow lost a “3” when I repeated the date at the bottom. Thanks for letting me know. It is indeed Saturday, August 13 at 2:30 pm.

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Hank On August 10, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Sounds great. Wish I could be there. Hopefully it will end up on YouTube. Break a leg!

bethfinke On August 10, 2016 at 7:36 pm

Oh, yikes. Hoping it *won’t* be on YouTube!

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Pat Fraser On August 10, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Definitely trying to work it out…break a leg.

bethfinke On August 10, 2016 at 7:38 pm

Oh, promise me you will not go to too much trouble to be there. Promise? Okay.

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Benita Black On August 11, 2016 at 8:22 am

The Neo-Futurists in NY retain the longer version of their name,Too Much Light etc. Same idea, though: 30 plays in 60 minutes. It’s probably very un-PC to wish a broken leg on a blind person, so GOOD LUCK, Beth. I’m sure you’ll tell us all about the experience next week.

bethfinke On August 11, 2016 at 8:49 am

Not so sure about PC, but must say, I was already a little nervous about falling off the stage before folks started hoping I’ll break a leg.

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Marilee On August 11, 2016 at 8:58 am

I am glad you persevered! Good luck to Whitney too!! I will be looking for the reviews on Sunday:)

bethfinke On August 11, 2016 at 9:29 am

Ha!

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Wendy On August 11, 2016 at 9:48 am

Dang it, I’ve gotta go to a wedding Saturday. Please know that I would much prefer to be a member of your audience! Looking forward to your reflections next week.

bethfinke On August 11, 2016 at 11:41 am

Well, with any luck the wedding –and the marriage –will last longer than our performance –the entire production shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes! Thanks for your encouragement, Wendy.

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Carol Abrioux On August 11, 2016 at 2:32 pm

I’m going to try to b there, Beth, It’s not easy for me to get there either–two busses that have shortened schedules on Saturday and rain predicted. But Bravo for going ahead with it. If I don’t make it, I’m sure you and the cast and Whitney will all be great and I’ll hear/read about it next week.

bethfinke On August 11, 2016 at 4:56 pm

Oh, Carol, don’t go to too much trouble –it’s supposed to be quite hot on Saturday, too. If you can’t make it, Whitney and I can give you a private show before class Monday.

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Annelore On August 11, 2016 at 4:01 pm

We’ll try our best to be there! And Beth, ‘break a leg’! A

bethfinke On August 11, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Thanks — I can’t lose with those red shoes of yours —

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nbollero On August 11, 2016 at 7:24 pm

Good luck! Sure wish I could see the play!

bethfinke On August 11, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Gee, maybe we should take it on the road….?!

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Seeing Eye dog steals the show | Safe & Sound blog On August 14, 2016 at 11:07 am

[…] friends and writers from my memoir classes who made it to Victory Gardens yesterday afternoon for my Chicago stage debut. Your enthusiasm and laughter was very reassuring, and performing on stage ended up being a lot of […]

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