How do you describe a sheep to someone who has been blind since birth? Someone who only has a relative concept of size and no concept at all of “white”? Someone who cannot respond to visual cues. For Lindsay Nyman, a beautiful young actress with bright brown eyes, it is a matter of sensitivity. Of using your imagination. Nyman, who is sighted, began her work with the Theatre by the Blind players as a volunteer. Theatre by the Blind is an integral part of CRE Outreach, and is the nation’s only theater group composed entirely of blind actors. A 2012 graduate from UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film, and Television, she has had to improvise explanations, descriptions, and movements to a diverse group of actors, singers, and musicians. As for the lamb, she described it by relating it to a dog, “only covered with fluff.” And “soft and marshmallowy”. “Marhsmallowy kind of describes the ‘essence’ of a lamb,” she says. “It’s important to get to the inside of things. You have to go deeper and see the core.” Her intuitive sensibilities have led her to the co-directorship (with Greg Shane, founder and artistic director of CRE Outreach) of a play that she co-wrote (with Colin Simson and with input from the performers). It’s called Yesterday’s, and no, that isn’t a misplaced apostrophe—it’s the name of a jazz club that is the subject of the play. An actress named Cookie plays Candy, the owner of the jazz club who is trying to stave off the failing club’s demise. Which gives her friends and regulars the opportunity to help by volunteering their musical talents. Among the ensemble of 12 are singers Robert Smith and Sean Gorecki, pianist Laywood Blocker, saxophonist Bert Grose, and percussionist Willie Robinson. As for working with the blind, “They have their individual preferences,” Nyman says. “Some don’t like to be touched and some do. But, as you can imagine, suddenly being touched can be a startling—and frightening—experience.” Instead of touching, she uses sound cues. “If I need them to come across the stage to a chair, instead of taking them by the shoulders and steering them, I stand by the chair and tap it so they can hear where I want them to come. “We also have interlaced mats on the floor for blocking so they can follow along and feel where they need to go. They don’t have to use their canes and after awhile their muscle memory takes over. It’s a beautiful thing: we set up an environment that they know is safe and it becomes familiar and provides them with freedom.” Nyman, who is a 23-year-old New Yorker from Long Beach, Long Island, has established a loving, personal relationship with
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Cookie, a 64-year-old woman who lost her sight as the result of domestic violence by her partner. As the star of Yesterday’s, Cookie has learned to “face her fears and push past her limits,” according to Nyman. “It’s strange, because we are not peers and we communicate differently,” Nyman adds. “Sighted people bond over things they see and share. Their bond is built on visual things; they connect on looks and facial expressions. “With Cookie I have to connect on bigger things. I have to be as open and receptive as I can and conscious of what I’m doing at all times. Directors (and sighted people) have to take more time and thought with how they communicate. “It slows everything down. The director can’t just yell directions, she has to be much more detail-oriented and wait until everyone’s accounted for. More care has to be taken. The actors have to take their cues from hearing and feeling the energy from the other actors. They have to do the work to really listen and stay engaged, to understand without visual cues. “Listening is so important when you’re not part of the gesturing world,” she continues. “Most people get their bodies involved when they communicate, but it’s hard for some visually impaired people to break out of their shell. This production serves as rehab as well as theater. It’s inspiring to see what it’s doing for them, what it means to them.” She notes that blind people normally don’t want to call attention to themselves. “Can you imagine how terrifying it is to be seen when you can’t see back?” she asks. “The theater allows the actors to break through and project themselves, first as a character and then as themselves.” She finds the process confidence-building. “You don’t need sight to connect with the audience,” she says. “For two hours you’re another person—you’re that character—and the audience is with you.” Nyman, who has been “helping” for only a year, has an extensive theatrical resume for such a young actor. She started at nine as the little Jewish girl in the Broadway national touring company of Ragtime and had a recurring part as a Bosnian refugee on the TV soap All My Children. She was part of a pop singing group called Huckapoo and has been recorded on 5 Disney Channel albums, toured with the Jonas brothers, and danced with the Eglevsky Ballet Company. She has also danced jazz, hip hop, modern, lyrical, and tap in various shows and is a certified Pilates instructor. Her family is equally productive. Her father, Bruce Nyman, has served as Supervisor of Nassau County and then as City Manager of their home city of Long Beach, Long Island. Her mother, Shelley, was a schoolteacher and a copywriter at an ad agency. “The positive attitudes of my family, and of the actors in Yesterday’s, has changed my life,” Nyman says. “They’ve shown me how to see the world by stepping outside yourself and looking at it with gratitude and appreciation. “As the tagline for CRE Outreach claims, we’re ‘Transforming lives—one play at a time.’ And I stand backstage silently shouting, ‘You can do it! You’ve done it! It’s happening!’” Yesterday’s, produced by CRE Outreach, Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third St. Promenade, Santa Monica. Opens April 19. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 2 pm. thru May 5. Tickets: $20. 310.902.8220 Reprinted from LA Stage Times, published April 18, 2013.