Rogue Performer Preview: Hearing Lost, Inspiration Found Adventures of a Hearing Impaired Folk Singer on the Fringe

Feb 28, 2018 | 2018 Articles, Theatre

by Randy Rutherford

The Rogue Festival is almost here! Enjoy another Rogue Festival performer preview article, with one more that went up tonight as well. You can also check out others that have already been published this month in our A & E section. We also have an article about this year’s Rogue Festival Muse, and once Rogue begins, watch for reviews and video interviews. For more information on the Festival itself check out their website and keep an eye on KRL’s Rogue Festival Event Page.

“A blind person loses their connection to things, a deaf person loses their connection to people.” —Helen Keller

It’s the mid seventies in Alaska; I’m a folksinger in my early twenties, making 150 bucks a night headlining at the Fancy Moose Saloon. I’m driving a bright orange Karmann Ghia convertible—probably the only convertible in Alaska—and I’m adored by my beautiful girlfriend, Molly. So I’ve pretty much got it made. God is shining on me. Then one night I’m on stage, playing guitar and singing, and it’s almost like a panic attack comes on; the sound in the room totally changes, I get really disoriented and stop playing. People come up asking what’s wrong, but all I’m hearing is gibberish and this loud ringing in my ears.

rogue

Randy Rutherford

The doctor’s diagnoses was clear: “Mr. Rutherford you have a congenital hearing loss, and we think it’s progressive. There’s no telling when you might go completely deaf. If I were you, I’d find a different career.”

Like any normal person, I naturally fell into a dark, howling depression. I broke up with the adorable Molly, stopped performing, locked myself in a tiny trailer house, and started stuffing myself with chocolate-covered Ho Hos while watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island and lamenting, “Oh God, why me?”

Months later, Molly left a small set of watercolor paints on my doorstep, and I started painting. I figured I could always make music visually on paper, just in case I went completely deaf. For many years after that, I earned my living and won awards as a watercolorist; I loved it, but eventually realized that painting alone, coupled with the isolation of my hearing loss, wasn’t doing me any good. I had to get out and try to reconnect with people.

One day after moving back to California, I got my guitar out of the closet and started playing again; amazingly, my fingers remembered how to play, and I discovered I could still hear it if it was very quiet. After weeks of practicing, I finally got up enough nerve to play at this local sidewalk café—and before I got through my first song, total strangers started tapping their feet and flashing warm smiles at me.

But, I soon realized I’d lost too much hearing to perform in a professional way; clubs and coffee houses with noisy backgrounds were impossible for me. But then, by accident or providence, I wandered into San Francisco’s Marsh Theatre and discovered the art of solo theatre performance. With the miracle of state-of-the-art digital hearing aids and a quiet, attentive theater audience, I found I could still hear well enough to play guitar, sing, and tell stories. It was like being reborn.

For over a decade now, I’ve been performing my musical monologs on the North American Fringe Theater Circuit. Not only has it enabled me to develop a string of critically-acclaimed hit shows, but most of all, it has allowed me to reconnect with people. And when it’s working, it’s wonderful. On stage I’m not disabled, alienated, or hearing impaired; I’m the guy who manages to transcend my hearing loss and have the most amazing connection to a room full of strangers. There’s nothing quite like it—somehow, I’ve become the life of the party again, like I’m back at the Fancy Moose. I feel blessed.

It’s true that I have lost most of my hearing —I’m now considered legally deaf—and, like many individuals with profound hearing loss, I still feel isolated and left out of most social situations. But I never gave up on my dream, and I’ve managed to find new inspiration and connection performing on the Fringe circuit. I love the Fringe—it lets me live a normal life again. With that in mind, please come join me at this year’s Rogue Festival, where I’m performing my latest musical memoir, Aim for the Heart.

Aim for the Heart is the story of when I fell madly in love for the first time at the tender age of forty-six. I thought love had passed me by until I met Darcy a massage therapist that I thought was going to heal me. I didn’t realize she needed to be healed too.

“A lyrical and intimate portrayal of what it means to love unconditionally, and the painful road one navigates in search of healing. Rutherford is charming, funny, and a master storyteller as he navigates difficult subject matter, PTSD, while opening his heart to the audience.” – Levi Gogerla, Edmonton’s Vue Weekly

“I was emotionally moved by Randy’s story. It’s one of his best. I highly recommend it.” – Todd James, Global TV

Aim for the Heart is playing at the The Revue Stage at 620 East Olive Blvd. Tickets: $12

Dates & Times
March 2 Friday 5:30 p.m.
March 3 Saturday 3:30 p.m.
March 4 Sunday 5 p.m.
March 9 Friday 7 p.m.
March 10 Saturday 5 p.m.

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