My name is Blake Stadnik. I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. When I was six years old, I began having trouble seeing the chalkboard in school. After a number of visits to the doctor, I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a degenerative genetic condition that affects the light-sensitive cells in the retina. I was legally blind within nine months.
I had been starting to play sports like many other children in my hometown, but I could no longer see the ball. My mother thought I might enjoy taking tap lessons because I always danced around whenever someone played music. I loved it! I began taking other forms of dance and singing lessons; I felt at home when I was performing. I performed in my first musical at nine in a community theatre production of “Gypsy.”
I fell completely in love with acting when I discovered Shakespeare. The language felt rich and vibrant, and the stories were so grand and epic. I knew then that I wanted to be an actor.
There have been many challenges throughout my training and my career thus far: how to approach the topic of my disability in an audition, how to prepare a script using my assistive tech, how to navigate a stage with intense lighting, etc. I did not have anyone in the popular culture at the time to look to as an example of how to navigate this road, and there were few mainstream characters whom I could emulate in my life. So, I had to sort of figure it out as I went.
The Power of Inclusion, Access and Interdependence
My greatest asset in the this business has always been the amazing open-minded people in the arts who are willing to take a chance on me, and who are willing to collaborate with a person who has a disability. I had to learn how to ask for help very quickly, and my ability to do so has opened the door for others to ask questions and expand their understanding.
It was paramount to the creators of “This Is Us” to properly represent a visually impaired character both in their writing and casting.
Now I have the privilege to play a blind character that has such strength and depth, and I have the honor of representing the VI community on network television.
If there is any child with a disability watching Jack Damon rocking out at The Greek, I want them to know they can absolutely follow their dreams, and there are scores of loving people to help them along the way.
About the author
Blake Stadnik is most well-known for his role as Jack Damon on NBC’s “This Is Us.” Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he discovered acting after he lost the majority of his eyesight due to Stargardt’s Disease.
After receiving his BFA in Musical Theatre from Penn State University, Blake had a successful theatre career appearing in Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, Newsies, and 42nd Street. As an actor with a disability, he advocates for all disabled artists.
To keep up with Blake, follow him on Instagram at @BlakeStadnik.
(Photo credit for featured image: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)