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An open door to unlimited possibilities: America’s only theater troupe with all blind actors

Blind actor Matthew Saracho found a talented family in Theatre by the Blind, a Los Angeles-based company that features exclusively blind and visually impaired actors.

Blind actor Matthew Saracho stands in the lobby of a theater, holding his mobility cane and chatting with two young people.

I was born totally blind with a rare form of blindness called ONH, or Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. I was also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at four years old. I’m 33 now, and live in East Los Angeles, California.

Since May of 2016, I’ve been part of a theatre company. It’s not just any theatre troupe, no: everybody involved in it is either blind or visually impaired.

We’re known as Theatre by the Blind, and we have our own theatre in Culver City. The organization that makes this program possible is ArtsUP! LA, formerly CRE Outreach. “CRE” stood for Create, Reflect and Empower, but “UP” stands for Unlimited Possibilities.

We’re more than just a theatre company – we don’t just come in, rehearse our parts and go. We are one big beautiful family who looks out for one another. Even if one of us has to step down, that doesn’t mean we’ll stop keeping in touch with each other.

Bringing Louis Braille’s story to life

A few months back, we performed a musical on the humble beginnings of Louis Braille. Yes, the very same young genius who broke new ground for us all. The musical is called “The Braille Legacy,” originally written in French by a playwright and composer named Sebastien Lancrenon.

The play originated in London about five or six years ago, but all the actors wore blindfolds even though they could actually see. This was the first time it was performed by a cast that was completely visually impaired.

I didn’t play the main character, but I was his teacher, Monsieur Dufau. Dufau taught at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, and was known to be mean and rough with his pupils. So naturally, I was a little uncertain at first about how this would all work out. I’ve never been the kind of guy who gets easily angered, because I try to live at peace no matter the circumstances.

Pausing the performance for COVID

We started rehearsing for this show in January of 2020. But when March came around and COVID hit, we had no choice but to put rehearsals on hold.

After months of looking at the script and examining my character, I began to notice something: though Monsieur Dufau was a mean man, down deep in his soul, he still possessed some compassion for the children he taught. I noticed that side of him when he told the school’s principal that he decided to lighten Louis’s load. At a certain point in time, the children were getting sick, one after another, and so was Louis.

After over a year of not being together in person, it was time to get back in the game again. And we finally did, in October of 2021.

We were supposed to perform in March this year, but in January, COVID cases went up again.

The show must go on!

We came back for good a second time in March, practiced in April and May, and performed to two sold out crowds in June! The playwright came to see us both nights, and he even greeted me backstage after each run.

On top of that, the legendary Stevie Wonder attended opening night! His son is a cameraman who had been filming all of our rehearsals leading up to the performances. He didn’t bother telling us his dad would make an appearance because he knew we would be nervous or overexcited.

Oh yes, and we got plenty of press! The Los Angeles Times came to take pictures and interview us. We were also featured on the local news channel, NBC 4 [VIDEO]!

What inspires me – and what’s next

I wasn’t too impressed by TV or movies growing up in the 90s and 2000s. I mean, I did go out occasionally to the movies to catch something like The Lion King or Shrek. But back in those days, movie theatres didn’t offer you audio description accommodations. That meant somebody always had to tell you what was going on. But hey, I’m glad things are finally improving for the blind and visually impaired every day.

What really inspired my acting ability or stage presence was the radio. The music that really had me smiling from ear to ear was the oldies. I’m talking Elvis, The Beatles, Little Richard, The Righteous Brothers, Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, The Temptations, Ricky Nelson, The Beach Boys, etc. Those iconic legends are still part of my music collection to this day.

And the station that played this music here in Los Angeles was the iconic K-Earth 101.1 FM, KRTH. Each of the DJs who worked there had their own style and character – Robert W. Morgan, the Real Don Steele, Shotgun Tom Kelly and Wolfman Jack.

Ever since I joined Theatre by the Blind, Greg Shane, the artistic director, and others involved have said my voice belongs on the radio. While I wholeheartedly agree, I can’t see myself working in the corporate radio market here in Los Angeles. But if and when an opportunity arises, I plan to play what I heard growing up on K-Earth and other stations.

I want to introduce our youngsters to real, authentic, heartfelt music that was made by real live human beings, not machinery and synthesizers. At the same time, I want to do this in memory of those who are no longer with us, and to honor those who haven’t gone yet. Unless we know where we came from, we’ll never be able to move forward.

But until then, I’m working on another production with the same awesome cast. It’s called “Love is a Battlefield” or “Romeo & Juliet Rocks the 80’s.” As soon as that happens, I’ll keep you all in the know.

About the author

Matthew Saracho is from East Los Angeles, California. In addition to being an actor in Theatre by the Blind, he is an active member of the company’s board of directors.

You can follow him on YouTube.

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