Max Maschino is in his comfort zone when he’s onstage.
The 14-year-old Jennings County resident has performed in more than a dozen shows at Jackson County Community Theatre in Brownstown and a couple of shows in North Vernon.
He also has had voice lessons over the last couple of years and most recently took a theater class at Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville.
Watching him onstage, you may not realize he is legally blind.
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That, however, has not prevented him from doing what he loves. People at the theater know he is legally blind and provide a lot of help.
"There are probably some things that in the past, I haven’t really been able to do, but this is something that they can help me with so that I can do it," the St. Mary’s Catholic School eighth-grader said. "They think that it is important to get that so they can get people to come in and experience the theater. It does mean a lot."
Providing him with enlarged monologues and large-print scripts, theater officials have made sure Maschino gets the same opportunities as anyone else.
"Before, I probably wouldn’t be as good because it was hard to stand up there and read scripts and do auditions because I would have to sit with my face in front of that tiny script and you couldn’t hear me as well," he said. "Now, it’s easier because they are bigger scripts."
If he didn’t wear his glasses, Maschino said everything would be blurry and difficult to see.
"Sometimes, I read with my glasses off because it’s easier to see up close, but a lot of times, it’s hard to see with them off," he said. "I can make things out and I can see figures and stuff, but it’s kind of hard."
He also receives support at school to ensure being legally blind doesn’t hold him back.
"They are also really good about making sure that they can help," Maschino said.
Kathy Nelson, president of the JCCT board of directors, said the theater is more than happy to make accommodations for anyone who wants to participate.
In the summer youth theater workshop, officials were able to determine 10 to 15% of the kids had some sort of disability.
Nelson said they have had children with Asperger syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities. There also have been kids who have trouble reading.
"When you’re looking at a script and having to read a script, it’s a little bit tough, but we’ve always made whatever accommodations we need to make sure we include everybody," she said.
"We just want every child to feel included and to feel normal," she said. "Kids don’t like to stand out. It’s difficult when you do stand out because then you’re open to criticism or whatever. It’s tough being different when you’re a kid growing up."
For the workshop, the theater doesn’t ask if a child has a disability.
"I think that’s probably a good reason that we don’t ask, ‘Do you have anything you need assistance with?’ because then the slate is clean for everybody and we treat everybody the same," Nelson said. "Then we learn what issues people may have or what help they may need, and we work with that on an individual basis."
Nelson said she has found out about some kids’ needs through their parents.
"Sometimes, parents do let us know just because I think they want to make sure that in case that child does act differently or does things that we need to know about for the safety of the child and the safety of everybody else," she said. "Sometimes, it is good to know if they have any limitations and what those are, but a lot of times, we don’t know until we get to know the family."
When Maschino went through his first audition at JCCT four years ago, his mother, Courtney, said she let the director know he has low vision and is color blind and would need to be shown what to do up close.
"Four years later, and Max has claimed a special spot at JCCT," Courtney said. "They all know Max’s needs, and they meet every one of them by treating him just like everyone else. They make enlarged copies of each script for the plays he’s in. In fact, the last couple auditions, they already had enlarged copies made, assuming ahead of time that Max would be at the audition and wanted to be ready for him."
Courtney said they want Max to feel comfortable and not have attention drawn to him with a small script.
"They want him to be able to give an audition to the best of his ability fairly," she said. "Max does very well for himself, and when he becomes familiar with a place, it’s just like home. JCCT is like home to him. He can be himself there, and every single person accepts him as the person he is. He’s not defined as a kid with low vision at JCCT. He is a kid who is smart, loves theater, loves his JCCT family and has a great sense of humor."
Courtney said she knew something wasn’t right with Max when he was 10 months old. Within a few months, he was referred to an ophthalmologist at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
"There, they diagnosed him with retinal dystrophy, meaning his retinas were deteriorated," she said. "There are hundreds of different types of retinal dystrophy someone could have, but through several rounds of genetic testing that have been done, it has been unable to determine what type he has. Therefore, there is no treatment or surgery that can be performed."
Max’s toddler years were very normal in a sense that he was just another kid with glasses, Courtney said.
"No one could really tell he had trouble with his vision," she said. "Not knowing at that time if Max would end up losing more of his vision, we spent five to six years doing tactile therapies, learning Braille and also learning keyboarding."
As Max progressed through school, he has needed some accommodations, such as large-print books, enlarged paper and other assistive devices, but he has been able to do almost everything on his own, Courtney said.
"After routine exams and testing, it appears that Max’s vision isn’t showing a pattern of getting worse than his current state," she said. "He has retired from all vision therapies and does 95% of everything on his own."
That includes being a strong student at school.
"Every single teacher in that school has made sure he gets his needs met all the while learning like everyone else," Courtney said. "Max has been a straight-A student for nine years doing the same studies as everyone else."
As his mother, Courtney said she naturally worries and wonders about Max, but he often reminds her when she tries to help him with something by saying, "It’s fine, mom. I can figure it out."
"He can and he does and will figure out anything he needs or wants," Courtney said. "Max really does very well for himself, and unless you work closely with Max, you wouldn’t know he has to work a little harder at seeing things. JCCT welcomed him in as any other child, and they have given him confidence to be himself and also grow in each role he plays."
Nelson said treating Max like any other kid is important.
"The theater gets all walks," she said. "We get all different nationalities and people from different countries and different educational backgrounds. We get such a wide variety of people, and that’s what really is important to the theater because playing characters and acting differently, having a different background is very beneficial in that as far as casting and things like that."
She and the rest of the theater volunteers want to ensure everybody is included and treated normally.
"The theater is a place where anyone is accepted and everyone is accepted," Nelson said. "That, to me, is something I’ve always enjoyed because it doesn’t matter your size, your color, your race, anything. You can be anything you want to be, and I think that’s really important."