An actor very rarely needs to portray a blind character. There are surprisingly few plays or movies written in the English language that contain blind characters. "Wait Until Dark," "Scent of a Woman" and "Molly Sweeney" are some of the most popular. For a sighted actor, the chance to play a blind character is rare, and there are certain techniques that need to be mastered to make the portrayal believable.
Actors playing disabled characters can sometimes overplay the disability. The experience of playing a blind character should not become only about the character's blindness; all other aspects of the character's personality, life and experiences should be equally important to create a fully rounded character. Furthermore, it is important not to make the blindness too prominent. For example, a character who has been blind for many years should not be played as constantly disorientated, as the person would have developed skills to cope with blindness. In terms of facial expression, the best way to portray blindness is not with closed eyes, but with a soft eye focus, which takes practice to perfect.
Consider the Duration of Blindness
When playing a blind character, it is important to know whether the character was born blind, was blinded in childhood or has been recently blinded, as this has a significant impact on the character's experience of blindness. A recently blinded character is likely to be less adept at moving and responding to the world around him , while a character who has been blind for many years is more likely to move with ease and be comfortable experiencing the world with his other senses. Also, being blinded is usually a traumatic experience, so a recently blinded character will be affected by this.
Sighted actors can try to experience being without sight by practicing their part while blindfolded, or with shut or covered eyes. This can help give actors an insight into a different way of experiencing the world. However, it should not be relied upon too much. Even a recently blind character will be more confident moving without sight than a sighted actor can become during a rehearsal period. Blindfolds should be used to give the actor a general impression and shouldn't be used as the basis for an actor's blind performance.
Watch Blind Actors
Blind actors playing blind characters can give a good impression not only of how a blind character might experience the world, but also of the ways this can be portrayed on stage, which is quite a different thing. A blind character needs to appear to be blind to the audience, without seeming like a stereotype of blindness. Blind actors can show their own experience of blindness, as well as showing how to communicate this to an audience. Try talking to a blind actor about their experience, as well as meeting blind people who are not actors, to observe their movements and facial expressions. Talk to blind people about the ways they perceive their surroundings, and the skills they use to cope with their blindness.
Emma Murray has worked as a writer for the past four years, and is published in student, local, and national publications, including "The Isis Magazine," "The Evening Chronicle" and "The Sunday Times" Culture Section. She is a first class graduate in English language and literature from the University of Oxford.