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Local performance explores blindness

BY MARISA WAY | FEBRUARY 04, 2010 7:30 AM

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People who see Eye Piece will experience a full spectrum of emotions. At times, they may even feel a little lost, but that is exactly what playwright Rinde Eckert is hoping will happen.

“Sometimes, they’ll be laughing, and other times, they’ll be crying,” he said. “And sometimes, they may even be perplexed.”

Eye Piece will be produced in the Theatre Building’s Mabie Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Feb. 12 and 13 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 7 and 14. Admission will be $5 for university students, $15 for seniors, and $17 for all others.

The piece was written and directed by UI graduate Rinde Eckert; its cast comprises students from the music, dance, and theater departments, as well people from the Iowa City community.

The project is presented through the UI because the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program selected Hancher Auditorium for a grant in 2007. The UI Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration also played a significant role in the production of Eye Piece.

Eckert was approached with the topic of blindness — it was his job to make art out of it.

“They called me and asked if I’d be interested in being part of a grant,” he said. “One that was in collaboration with the ophthalmology department and the eye clinic. It was up to me to figure out how to tell some kind of story with it.”

The play is about a painter who loses his sight and how he attempts to deal with this change in his life, Eckert said. Eye Piece revolves around the topic of disability as a whole.

“It deals with vision loss, the vicissitudes of impairment, and the psychological ramifications of vision loss,” he said. “It deals with medicine and the doctor-patient relationship. It’s a very broad spectrum, and it relates to blindness in a larger sense as well.”

Gary Barth, an Iowa City resident who plays Tiresias, a blind prophet in Greek mythology, hopes that Eye Piece causes people to look differently at disabilities.

“I hope they feel moved more than anything,” he said. “I hope they feel moved to challenge any preconceptions that they may have about disabilities. Hopefully, the main function of art is that it opens our eyes wider. It lets us see more, and that’s particularly poignant and loaded for a show that is about blindness and about someone descending into blindness.”

The cast had six weeks of rehearsal — the first two weeks were in October, and rehearsals resumed on Jan. 11. The production, from the initial planning until the show’s opening night Friday, spanned around two years, Eckert said. This posed a bit of a challenge for him, because he teaches Interdisciplinary Theater at Princeton University.

“I kept coming back [to Iowa City] for interviews and to talk more about the project with people, so maybe five or six visits before I got to this point,” he said.

When the audience members leave Eye Piece, he wants them to feel the full array of emotions, including confusion.

“Overall, I tend to want my audience to just be a little lost, but not so lost that they panic,” Eckert said. “But that means that they’re in a different world — that they’re going to see something brand-new.”


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