Blind On Stage

  • Pamela Sabaugh backstage before a performance of "According to Goldman," by Bruce Graham.

  • Pamela Sabaugh in her dressing room before a performance at the Clurman Theatre.

By Tara Bracco

Pamela Sabaugh, an actress who has juvenile macular degeneration, began studying theater in Detroit and has been acting professionally in New York since 1997. Sabaugh is legally blind with only peripheral vision. Most recently, she performed in the play “According to Goldman,” by Bruce Graham, produced by Theater Breaking Through Barriers. Here, she talks about acting, vulnerability and living in the moment.


In the beginning of eighth grade, I started seeing this little tiny blind spot, like a little tiny dancing rainbow in the center of my vision. It was very tiny and by the end of eighth grade, the blind spot had sort of grown to the size that it was going to be. And so I mostly see peripherally.

I was a rebellious teenager and had my issues and my defense mechanisms. And that was a very big thing acting helped with. I had to strip away all that and be willing to take the risk to be vulnerable and put myself out there. And the two went hand in hand. My ability to find my way in the world and gain my independence went hand in hand with my learning how to become an actor and putting myself out in the world as me.

I took a class in the city [Detroit], it was an acting conservatory, and I found out about it through the radio. They were talking about this scene study class, and I thought scene study scares me because I have to deal with looking at people, and when I look like I’m looking at you, I’m not seeing you because I’m put in that blind spot where your face is. So something about the challenge of it, not only studying acting, but studying scene study. Having to get in front of another person and be with them in the way that I look at them.

I have to memorize every audition side because no matter how large the print is I’m reading like that one letter at a time and it takes way too long. And so you are just going to be watching a woman struggling to read and you’re not going to see any acting. So I have to get the sides ahead of time and get them memorized and then go in and possibly not get the job. Where somebody might be able to just pick up the side and read it, I have to put a lot more effort in initially. Eventually the playing field is leveled cause we all have to have it memorized.

The challenge is what initially called to me, that taking up that challenge. But the living moment to moment, having that opportunity to live fully in each moment, and really connect, really listen, and really connect, really respond on stage with another person with that audience factoring in, it’s very difficult to explain. You’re fully alive in that moment. So it’s beautiful.