Walter Learning's miracle: Show goes on despite sight loss

A well-known Fredericton actor is returning to his roots.

Macular degeneration costs veteran actor his eyesight so he turns to computer to learn lines

Veteran stage actor uses computer to learn lines after macular degeneration claims sight. 1:47

A well-known Fredericton actor is returning to his roots.

Walter Learning founded Theatre New Brunswick in 1968. His craft has taken him to the stages of Stratford, Vancouver and as far away as Australia.

Now the 75-year-old is back at The Playhouse in the lead role in TNB's Christmas production Miracle on 34th Street.

"I should have introduced myself … Kris Kringle," says Learning.
Having lost most of his sight, Walter Learning scans his script into a computer and it reads his lines back to him. (CBC)
Learning continues to write, direct and act in productions across Canada.

But his return to the stage as Kris Kringle in Fredericton is a small miracle of its own.

"A few years ago, I got struck with macular degeneration, so now I have no central vision, so I can't read anymore," says Learning.

When Learning looks at a script, he can't read the letters.

But he's found a way around it.

He uses a computer program to scan the script.  It reads the words back to him aloud.

"I beg your pardon, sir, but you seem to have gotten yourself slightly mixed up," the computer says as Learning demonstrates how it works.

An added pressure for Learning is he can't take the computer on stage to run his lines during rehearsals with the other actors, so he has to memorize his parts before the rest of the cast.

Learning uses his peripheral vision to navigate the set. He says he can see outlines just fine.

The play runs almost two hours long and Kris Kringle is in most of it.

Cast members say for Learning to memorize more than 15 scenes with limited vision is no small miracle.

The show starts at the Playhouse in Fredericton tonight as Miracle on 34th Street begins a three-night run.


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