Graduating Senior Doesn’t Allow Vision Impairment to Thwart Theater Dreams

Batman may be a superhero crime-fighter, but inside he’s Bruce Wayne—a regular guy who has seen trial and triumph.

Born with a vision impairment, Christian Darnell, who graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences on Friday, May 9, with a degree in theater, identifies with that inner strength.

“Bruce Wayne’s story began with the adversity of his parents dying, but he moves beyond it—he becomes more from it,” Darnell said. “Now granted, I don’t dress up in a rubber suit and go and beat up criminals every night, but I can relate to Bruce in that I’m an individual who believes it’s wonderful to move past something that’s inhibiting you and turn it into a strength.”

As his time at UT comes to a close, Darnell says he is looking forward to what the future has in store. After graduation he hopes to move to Chicago, a city that boasts a rich and varied theater community, to gain experience and exposure in both acting and directing.

Christian Darnell, center, in a scene from A Christmas Carol.

Christian Darnell, center, in a scene from A Christmas Carol.

Darnell was born with oculocutaneous albinism, a condition that affects pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes and classifies him as being legally blind. When he was in the second grade, his mother enrolled him in Tennessee School for the Blind, where he was first exposed to the magic of theater.

“We would take field trips to Tennessee Performing Arts Center and the Children’s Theatre, which is how I first became interested in theater,” Darnell said. “I loved that the intimacy of it and the fact that I was able to experience emotions with the characters at that exact moment in time instead of just secondhand accounts.”

Darnell continued exploring his interest in theater during his freshman year at UT, joining the campus organization All Campus Theatre. With no real background in theater, Darnell started off working backstage. His drive, passion, and reliability were quickly recognized by other members, and during his sophomore year he was promoted to assistant stage manager.

In time, he moved from behind the scenes to center stage.

Darnell has appeared in numerous All Campus Theatre and Clarence Brown Theatre productions, including Dead Man’s Cellphone, A Christmas Carol, and Months on End.

As a visually impaired actor, Darnell had to find different techniques than those of his fellow thespians.

“Acting is reaction. Early on, I had to learn to bridge the emotional gap that I would miss through body language by focusing on the psychology of the scene in conjunction with my partner’s voice,” Darnell said. “It was tough, but I eventually realized I was overthinking the whole thing. By mixing the early lessons I learned in my first play with the techniques I’ve acquired from my classes, I have found a system that works.”

Associate Professor Casey Sams, who has worked with Darnell on stage and in the classroom, says that his story is one that can serve as an example to us all.

“Christian encourages everyone to move beyond what they believe they can do and to try things that may at first seem impossible. Time and again he has proven that the ability to have great vision is not centered on our eyes at all, but in our hearts and minds.”

 

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

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