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The Climb: My Life in the Arts

Actor and artist Ronnie Chism of the ArtsUpLA Theatre by the Blind shares his journey to the world of the arts

Two black and white photos of blind artist Ronnie Chism - on the left, he's in profile with smoke swirling around him. On the right, he's wearing a suit, looking up and smiling while holding his mobility cane in front of him.

I was born in New York, but grew up in the Midwest until I was 16. My mom got really sick with terminal cancer then, so we moved to Los Angeles to be with my sisters who lived out here. Entertainment runs in my family. My sisters originally came to California to be professional dancers. They danced with MC Hammer and Heavy D and established a life here. They were able to bring us to be with them and take care of us.

I started my relationship with the arts through music.

When I was in 8th grade, the coolest guy in class was a rapper – and you had to be good at rapping to hang. So, I learned to rap by accident, and then I got really good. I was hooked.

Blindness enters the picture

I started to notice something going wrong with my vision around the age of 25. I was working on releasing my first rap album when I started having issues with my eyes.

They didn’t know it was that serious until I turned 26 – then all my vision left before I was 29. Ultimately, they diagnosed it as uveitis, which is an inflammation of the eyes. For the longest time I was in denial. I was just trying to live life and I didn’t want to look at the fact that I could actually be going blind. I thought, “It couldn’t happen to me, not me! I have too much swagger!”

I’ve got to give a lot of credit and thanks to the Inland Empire Lighthouse for the Blind for helping me navigate the loss of my sight and showing me that I can be independent. I am able to work, take care of my 8-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, and do what I love—make music, perform, and act.

Being a part of Theatre by the Blind has been a big part of my journey.

Taking to the stage

Theatre by the Blind has had a huge social and professional impact on me – this organization is creating stars with every production and has given me a great support system.

In the beginning, it was very challenging to be a new actor, learning lines, stage choreography…

But I liked the challenge!

When the shows are put together and all the work is done, it makes it all worth it.

It’s also fun because of the camaraderie at Theatre by the Blind. We laugh, we joke, when we’re not on stage acting and performing — we are able to be ourselves and be people. We learn about each other and connect on a personal level and that also helps with the on-stage chemistry.

Directors like Greg Shane and Bryan Caldwell are really great too. I get to have a personal vibe with the other actors and the organizers — it’s like family! We’re able to have our laughs and giggles but when we get on stage, we can really turn it on.

I’ve been with Theatre by the Blind for over four years now, and I told the story of my blindness in a play called The Climb.

There are so many songs that make up the soundtrack of my life and this play shared music that has become part of that soundtrack. Music is the heart and soul of this play. I wrote two original raps and did spoken word in this play. I also got to show off my basketball skills.

Poster for ArtsUpLA and Theatre by the Blind’s play, The Climb.

The words “The Climb” are superimposed over an image of stairs climbing up. Alongside the stairs are photos of the two actors in the play. On the left are a childhood photo and a current photo of Maliaka Mitchell, who lost her vision due to diabetic retinopathy. On the right are a childhood photo and a current photo of Ronnie Chism. 

Text reads: “December 1 through 9 | Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. | The Blue Door – 9617 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, California”

For full information about the show, visit the links within the article.
Poster for The Climb, playing at the Blue Door in Culver City, California

About the author

Ronnie Chism is very involved in the arts community as a musical artist and actor living in Los Angeles, California. In addition to starring in ArtsUpLA‘s Theatre by the Blind latest production, The Climb, he also participates in other artistic endeavors. He is a member of the Vizionz Project, an organization that integrates blind and sighted performers each year in October to do a live show featuring musicians, comedians, rappers, and performers. He is also a dancer in The Blind Dance Company.

Ronnie also writes and performs his own music. He plans on independently releasing his new album next year. He also acts in short films and videos – he is featured in the upcoming short film, “The Eyes of Icarus.”

In December 2023, he starred in Theatre by the Blind’s original production, The Climb at The Blue Door in Culver City.

You can follow him on Instagram at @Talksho_the_Visionary.

For more perspective on Theatre by the Blind, read An open door to unlimited possibilities: America’s only theater troupe with all blind actors, a #MyBlindStory post from Matthew Saracho, another actor in the company.

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