Colfax man tackles blindess, takes center stage as musical director

COLFAX, Wis. (WEAU) -- Last minute preparations are underway for the Colfax High School production of "Newsies" the musical. But the process is a little different for this group of students and their director.

Gene Gibson has a unique perspective while directing the show as he is legally blind. Although it takes him longer to get everything prepared, he is using what he can see and more importantly what he knows to create a one of a kind show.

"There is a lot of dancing and singing and excitement throughout,” said McKenna Yingst, a senior at Colfax High School. And tackling this upbeat show is a plan with a plan. Gene Gibson has a unique approach to directing this Colfax production. “I listen to what they do, pray that it is close to what the book shows and try to memorize it as I go,” said Gene Gibson.

About 20 years ago, with no warning or explanation, Gene lost sight in both of his eyes. "I can't look at you and see you but I look around and as I do that quite often the peripheral vision will fill in, over time the picture that I am seeing,” Gibson said.

That is his new reality that over time, he has come to terms with. "There are still some things I will never do, I won't drive, I can't hit a baseball but I can do somethings that don't require fine details,” Gibson said.

But with a little bit of help and a whole lot of heart, Gene is able to still direct musicals. "I see them move and I see what they are doing,” Gibson said. “I can see if someone is exceptionally energetic and I can see if someone is not giving effort."

The students say working with Gene is always an adventure. "A lot of sarcasm, a lot of blunt directions, he is very upfront with us,” said sophomore, Drew Gibson. His directing style is certainly unique but it also helps create a special kind of show. "Just his style going through and teaching us how to read lines, how to express emotion, I think the way he does it is one of kind,” said Caden Erickson, a sophomore at Colfax High School.

Gene says teamwork is the key to helping the production, come to life. "Because he can't see the finer details, it's a lot more work put into the lines and so we have a lot more work on that and it becomes just a great finished product of how we deliver the lines and all of that,” said Tate Russell, a senior.

Even though it's an adjustment for everyone, the students wouldn't want anyone else standing in front of the stage giving them directions. "The kids respond to me well, they respond to the people around me well and it has made a world of difference at least to me to have around and accepting me,” Gibson said.

"Newsies" will run Friday and Saturday night at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Colfax High School.