I stood on the edge of a field at Houston’s George Bush Park, willing my legs to run.
As best I could I scanned the short cut grass and saw no problems, but I knew I might have missed something, so I looked and looked and looked again. My wife, who drove me to the park, double checked for me.
“All’s clear,” she said. “No obstacles.“
I nodded affirmation, but still couldn’t get my feet to propel me forward.
In a few minutes, as we rehearsed for the commercial we would film the next week in Belleville, I would have to run across that field.
My mind knew I was safe, but years of moving with caution kept my muscles at bay.
I ran—or at least I moved forward quicker than a walk—a couple of steps, then immediately stopped. I started again, three steps this time. I stopped again.
Finally, like someone forced off the high dive by the person waiting impatiently behind him, I ran full speed.
I didn’t trip. I didn’t run into anything. Excitement infused my body, a smile stretched across my face. (Think “Chariots of Fire.”)
I was thrilled for more reasons than not hurting myself. Yet fear still lingered in my heart. But I felt good.
In the field I have to run for the commercial shoot.
In 1992 I gave up acting, one year after my ophthalmologist gave me the devastating news: “You have Retinitis Pigmentosa.” Basically, my retinas were deteriorating and taking away my peripheral and night vision. What I saw in the daylight I saw sufficiently, but what I saw was minimal. A friend once held two empty paper towel centers to his eyes and said:
“Look, now I see like Ted sees.”
But he didn’t. Through those cardboard tubes he saw much more than I could see without them.
What I can see (in the oval) when staring directly at the word “peripheral” while working on this blog. The rest just fades out.
So I gave up my passion and my career because:
• I didn’t think I could manage back stage in the dark.
• I didn’t want my wife piling a child or two in the car to pick me up at midnight.
• I was scared to ride the bus late at night.
• And who would want to hire a person who could barely see?
The dream was over.
I got a “real job.” Each day the hard work kept my discouragement buried until I returned home where the television drowned out my depression.
I needed an artistic outlet so I immersed myself in the craft and business of writing. Pen on paper and hands on keyboard didn’t require potentially dangerous movement. Like the constant grind of auditions, I submitted story after story.
Throughout the years I had some short sketches produced at our church. In the early 2000’s, a short piece (also related to my eyes) was published for an e-mail devotional. And in 2010 I won 2nd prize in a Toasted Cheese 48-hour sci-fi/fantasy writing contest.
People suggested I work on audio books—more work done from the safety of my home—so I cleaned out a walk in closet and set up a home studio, but technology and my impatient frustrations short circuited my intentions and I gave up.
I participated in some staged readings and table reads; I performed in some of the short sketches I wrote for my church—a church had to use actors regardless of their disabilities, right? That and the writing helped. Every little bit helped.
But nothing I did pulled me out of the doldrums. Depression wouldn’t stay submerged and every day I battled to keep moving forward. All I’d ever wanted to do with my life, my passion and my dream, was taken away because of a lousy genetic abnormality.
I rode the bus to and from work and to and from the library and Blockbuster and the grocery store and other errands. I got used to it. After several years I became bolder and would stay at the library until it closed at 9:00 P.M, then take the bus home in spite of the drunks and other vagrants pestering me.
“The next time I see you I want you to have a cane,” My father-in-law encouraged.
I resisted at first, but in 2002 I finally connected with the Texas Commission for the Blind and the Light House of Houston. I took O&M (Orientation & Mobility) training and learned alternate ways to navigate, listening for traffic patterns and using my feet and my white cane to feel my way around. I learned how to manage my house and my day job and different ways to manage a computer. Even riding an escalator became easier and I learned how many rings indicated whether an arriving elevator was going up or down.
The bottom line wasn’t that I couldn’t do what I used to do, but that there were different ways to accomplish the same end result.
Could I translate this to my artistic pursuit?
Using that 20/20 hindsight there were many events that pushed me to reconsider my dreams again.
• Years of desperate angst.
• Comments and encouragement from friends.
• An Oprah television episode.
• A top notch therapist.
• A fantastic small group from church.
• A supportive wife, and -
• A great God.
One day an e-mail came, a mystery dinner theatre looking to expand their company. It was forwarded from a friend to my wife and from her to me. I wrote the producer explaining my limitations, and, while battling every actor paranoiac auditioning fear—exacerbated by a significant physical disability, I auditioned.
I made the company. Excitement, shock, and fear overflowed my heart. I was going to act again! Could I really do this?
The first year I used my cane. But, since I don’t look blind, audience members assumed it was a prop and kept taking it from me. I stopped using it and, applying the O&M training techniques, learned and practiced more ways to get around.
Keith & Margo’s Murder Mystery TX
Then a friend with her own ballet company enlisted our family as townspeople for her production of Amahl and the Night Visitors two years in a row. The first year I clung to my wife’s back through every rehearsal and performance. The second year I learned to use landmarks—searching for a specific set piece so I knew where I stood on stage; following the taped dance floor with my feet; seeking out the lip before the orchestra pit, also with my feet.
That second year our church also produced a one-act play and I got to participate. The long buried hunger to create and perform consumed me and I knew I had to audition for the professional stage again.
Houston holds an annual audition attended by most local theatres and I signed up. I stared through the door as actors before me entered and exited the audition space, trying to find my safest path. When I walked in, I grabbed the pole so I wouldn’t run into it. I found the chair and stool they’d provided and set them for my monologues. I stuttered through the first piece, dropping a sentence or two. I couldn’t find the stool for the second monologue, so just stretched out my legs and plowed forward.
I left and couldn’t stop talking. My wife probably thought the spirit of our ten-year-old daughter had infused my body. A good friend who ran a children’s theatre called me during an audition break to let me know I’d done well.
Tears filled my eyes. I smiled. My wife congratulated me. Now I just waited.
I jumped at every phone call for the next few months. Except for another Murder Mystery Group (where I worked for about 6 months) I only received three calls or e-mails—all offering me the chance to take classes.
Then my wife’s good friend, the woman who forwarded the e-mail about the murder mystery troupe, was sitting around the dinner table with the then artistic director of Unity Theatre in Brenham Texas. Their first show that fall was a production of Importance of Being Earnest and they still needed a Dr. Chasuble. She suggested me.
“Is he still acting?” the artistic director asked.
“He’s acting again.”
They called me for an audition and I got the part.
Myself (Chasuble) and Lisa Thomas (Prism); Unity Theatre’s “Earnest” 2007
I’ve been acting ever since.
A few years ago I revisited voice work and patiently overcame my technological struggles. I completed setting up my sound booth and currently have two audio book novellas on the market.
Converted Walk-In closet
I also took some camera audition classes and in the spring of 2017 sought a TV/Film agency which has sent me out on several jobs including the previously mentioned commercial which had me running through a field.
We filmed on a ranch about 60 miles outside of Houston. The grass was much taller and there were grooves and holes in the ground which was also scattered with cow patties. I ran a lot that day and they even said I sometimes ran too fast. I only once (gently) bumped a camera tripod.
One afternoon during my barren depression-filled years, I turned on the television. I flipped channels and lingered on the Oprah Winfrey show. She announced her next guest: a blind man who recently climbed Mt. Everest.
I set the remote on the side of the couch and watched.
Eric Weihenmayer, a totally blind man who has climbed the highest mountain peak on every continent (including Everest) and kayaked the white waters of the Grand Canyon, put me to shame. His successes encouraged my journey back to the stage.
This past year I learned he started a non-profit called “No Barriers.” Their intention is to “empower people to break through barriers, find their inner purpose, and contribute their best to the world.”
I had embraced that theme without realizing it.
We all should.
Whether too tall or too short or too old or too young; whether blind or deaf or lame or beat down by the struggles life hands us almost every day, we can’t let any of that become a barrier to pursuing our passions.
• Get a good therapist.
• Surround yourself with good friends.
• Spend little to no time with naysayers.
• Find new ways to accomplish what you can no longer do the “normal” way.
• Accept you may still have limitations.
I tried to juggle but just couldn’t do it. I DON’T drive a car.
• Swallow your pride and accept help when offered.
• Ask for help when not offered.
Even those alleged catty actors are helpful
• Don’t give up
Chase those dreams!
Ted Doolitte was born in London, England to Military parents and bit by the acting bug before he reached Junior High. He studied Theatre (BFA) at Baylor University and has worked primarily in St. Louis and Houston. Ted married in 1989 and has one young adult daughter. For the past year he's been working on a memoir related to his disability and acting. Learn more at: www.teddoolittle.com
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