Whitney the Seeing Eye dog is a talking head

December 31, 2016 • Posted in blindness, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Whitney, writing by

One challenge I took on in 2016 was acting on stage at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater.

Seven dancing human silhouettes and one dog silhouette pose against a bright violet background.

Our cast rehearsing my play “Night at the Emerald City Disco” a day before our performance in August, 2016. Photo by Malic White.

Let me explain. I’d attended an accessible performance of Too Much Light put on by the Neo-Futurists early in 2016. Too Much Light cast members write and perform a perpetually rotating list of two-minute plays in 60 minutes, and I found the show exhilarating — and intriguing.

After the success of their special accessible performances in 2016, the Neo-Futurists took things one step further. They used funds from grants they’d received from The Chicago Community Trust and Alphawood Foundation Chicago to team up again with the Victory Gardens Access Project to offer their popular Intro to Too Much Light playwriting program to a tuition-free class that is accessible to performers and writers with and without disabilities. I signed up. In addition to learning about playwriting and performing, I learned a lot about disabilities other than blindness. Half of the people in our class identified as having a disability, and I was the only one who was blind.

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.

I enjoy public speaking, but performing on stage did not come naturally. The enthusiasm and laughter I received from teachers and fellow students during class was reassuring, and performing on stage ended up being a lot of fun – especially for Whitney the Seeing Eye dog. She stole the show.

Whitney and I celebrated our premiere over a drink or two with friends immediately after our performance, and I returned home to find a note in my in box from our Neo-Futurist teachers congratulating us for “nailing” it. “The audience left with huge smiles on their faces,” they wrote. I learned to trust those teachers during classtime and rehearsals. I’m choosing to believe what they said about the audience, too!

The note went on. “Your dedication this summer paid off in a big, big way,” it said. “This is the first time Trevor and I have taught an accessible Neo-Futurist class AND it’s the first time we’ve taught a Neo-Futurist class that lasted for as many weeks as ours did. We want to keep doing this!”

And so, like so many other deserving non-profit organizations, the Neo-Futurists produced an end-of-the-year video to show potential donors what they do and why you might want to support them. The only difference about this particular promotional video: theatre star Whitney is in it.

I can assure you that the Neo-Futurists are one non-profit organization that doesn’t spend much of its donor money on overhead — when we showed up to record the video the Neo-Futurarium office was so crowded with staff and desks, and hallways so narrowed by piles of props and stage equipment, that even Superstar Whitney couldn’t weave me through. We had to go sighted guide. The Neo-Futurists are a helpful, creative bunch, though, and we made it safe & sound to the recording studio. I’m told we look good on the video, and just like their remark about our smiling audience back in August, I am choosing to believe what the Neo-Futurists say. Take a look and a listen, and if you are so inclined, please donate to the Neo-Futurists — tell them Whitney sent you.This just in: As part of the Neo-Access initiative, The Neo-Futurists will present a performance of “These 30 Plays” on Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 7 p.m. that includes audio description, Braille programs and a touch tour before the show. For more information, call 773-878-4557 or email admin@neofuturists.org.

Sheila A. Donovan On January 1, 2017 at 11:35 am

I remember seeing a play this year that was put on by physically challenged people. I’m not sure who organized it. I enjoyed it.

bethfinke On January 1, 2017 at 12:25 pm

I’m hoping some day actors with disabilities are just part of the mix on stage or on film, much like we’ve started becoming in American societey since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 25+ years ago.

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Regan Burke On January 1, 2017 at 5:57 pm

I’m assuming you won’t be in the Jan 22 performance? Happy belated birthday dear friend. I haven’t received notices of your blog all month so I’m reading them all now. I read Mary Norris memoir today “Between You & Me”. She’s the comma queen, copy editor at the New Yorker. I liked it – her personal stories are wrapped around her lessons on punctuation.

bethfinke On January 1, 2017 at 7:39 pm

Hmm. Wonder why you haven’t been receiving notices? Ah, well. You’ve read the posts now! Thanks for the note about that memoir

Jenny On January 6, 2017 at 7:44 pm

What a challenge. I loved reading about this before. I would have been terrified to act on stage, but sounds like you really enjoyed it when you did it. Such a brilliant opportunity to give people with disabilities who might otherwise find it difficult to try acting.

bethfinke On January 6, 2017 at 7:52 pm

Yeah –it was kind of like your woodturning adventure.

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