Actress to perform with blind theatre troupe

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Jun. 3—Julianna Abbruzzese, a junior at Cherry Valley-Springfield High School, is currently in Los Angeles practicing for an upcoming show of "The Braille Legacy," a musical about the life of Louis Braille.

Abbruzzese said she has been reading Braille since age 3 and is considered legally blind. "I can use a computer now," she said. "Technology is a lot better. I type things into the computer and it reads what I said. It's much easier."

She said she learned about Braille when she was a child. "I learned his story. I revisited and researched his story more before I came out here to do the show."

She said she will portray Catherine Lepage in the musical, which will be staged on June 24 and 25 at The Miracle Theatre in Inglewood, and will be in Los Angeles rehearsing until the performance. While she practices, she and the other actors will be filmed for a documentary about the Theater By the Blind, America's only all-blind theater company, which is staging the show.

To know where people need to stand on the stage, there is textured flooring and each actor has a different texture to learn. She said they won't be able to practice in the theater until the week of the performance, but during rehearsals "mats are set up on the floor so we know where we'll be on stage."

She said even though everyone on stage is blind or visually impaired, the production didn't hold back on the complex dance routines she has to learn for the performance. On Thursday, she said she spent seven hours in rehearsals Wednesday and said she would be in rehearsals for seven hours Friday, but expected to be in rehearsals for three to four hours each day the rest of the time she rehearses her role.

"It was so incredibly exciting. It was sheer luck. I didn't expect it to happen," she said of being cast in the musical. She said a family member got in touch with the director of the documentary. The director mentioned the show to her, but thought the whole production had been cast. However, COVID-19 set back production and the role of Catherine became available. "The director asked if I could sing," she said. "I sent a video and got the role by chance."

The 17-year-old said she is one of the youngest cast members in the production. She said she joined the school's drama club in sixth grade and "knew acting was what I wanted to do. I want to make it a career. Acting on Broadway is a dream of mine."

Since joining the drama club, she has performed in every school production and performed in productions of Orpheus Theater, most recently in Newsies, and recently portrayed Anne Frank in the Bigger Dreams Productions of "The Diary of Anne Frank."

"My favorite role so far has been Anne Frank," she said. "I was very happy to bring her to life. But I think Catherine will become my favorite role. It's never been seen in the U.S. before and I love her character."

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_VickyK on Twitter.