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Caitlin Hernandez

(Photo by Lynne Shane)

Caitlin Hernandez was auditioning to be in a movie when she got an unexpected break: A Los Angeles director commissioned her to write and star in her own show.

She dusted off a short story she wrote in high school and transformed it into a musical titled Dreaming in Color, which debuted to sold-out crowds at the Promenade Theatre in Santa Monica in July.

Hernadez (Cowell '12, literature) has been blind since birth. The musical, which looks at the challenges of blindness, is not autobiographical. But Hernandez said the play does tap into certain themes she's lived with her whole life. The daily struggles are challenges she shares with many of her blind peers.

"Blindness experiences are very universal," said Hernandez. "For instance, crossing the street on your own. No matter how many times you do that, it's always really scary."

The main character, Brenna, is a 16-year-old artist who is blinded in a car accident, and must learn to adapt to her new life.

For the first scene of the play, Hernandez had to play Brenna before she loses her sight. She relied on sound cues that the audience would never notice. For example, if another actor set down a cup in the living room, that was her prompt to the stage.

"We had to drill it so it was muscle memory," Hernandez said. "It had to look convincing."

Heartened by the play's success, Hernandez is brainstorming new ideas, and would like to continue working with Greg Shane, artistic director and co-founder of nonprofit arts organization CRE Outreach, the country's only acting company made up of all blind actors.

Writing and starring in the musical was part of Hernadez's "gap year"—time out between life stages. Acting and singing have been part of her life since elementary school, but eventually she wants to teach children with disabilities and has already applied to graduate school.

Dreaming in Color received several rave reviews, including one from Huffington Post blogger Jill Robinson, who wrote:

"As Caitlin tells us through Brenna, 'Being creative comes from your heart, your spirit, and your soul. The eyes inside me see beyond my fingertips.' This, of course, is the wonder which Caitlin, in her brilliance, teaches us in Dreaming in Color."