Visually impaired ‘Sweeney Todd’ actor delivers on stage despite disability

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The musical thriller Sweeney Todd is delivering a devilish good time at Pioneer Theatre Company through Nov. 10, and one of the show’s stars is living out his dream of being an actor, despite a disability. 

Blake Stadnik, a New York-based Equity actor who has appeared in professional productions of Newsies and 42nd Street, brings the character of street urchin Tobias Ragg to life in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. 

Stadnik was diagnosed at age six with Stargardt disease, a condition that caused his vision to deteriorate throughout his life. The young actor said now his peripheral and center vision is very limited because of the condition, making it challenging to perform on stage night after night. 

He describes theatre and acting as “expressing truth under imaginary circumstances;” in his case, he literally has to imagine some things on stage – because he can’t see them. 

“It’s blurry… I definitely trust my cast mates a lot,” said Stadnik.  “I definitely rely on color a lot…”

“I really hope [my cast mates] are where they need to be and they can see me, because I can’t see where they are at all,” Stadnik said of some productions. 

He said he believes he has been rejected for certain roles because of his disability. 

“I know people have been afraid that I might get hurt in a performance or something like that,” said Stadnik.  “I know for a fact that I have not gotten callbacks for auditions because people were uncomfortable or weirded out by it.”

He said his mother, who was with him when he received his diagnosis at age six, told him to never let his disability stop him from pursuing what he loves. Stadnik said he advocates for disabled actors, and hopes to create more resources for them within the theatre industry.

He urges all actors with disabilities, especially kids who may want to pursue a theatre career, to not let an impairment stop them. 

Sweeney Todd is a Tony Award-winning musical thriller by Stephen Sondheim, which premiered in 1979 and starred Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. A film version by Tim Burton was released in 2007, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. This dark musical tells the tale of Benjamin Barker, who changes his name to Sweeney Todd after being wrongfully imprisoned by a jealous judge, who subsequently steals his wife and daughter. The diabolically witty (and at times humorous) lyrics have made the show a musical theatre masterpiece, the actors said. 

The show runs at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theater through Nov. 10. Tickets are still available. 

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