by Maribel Steel
(Editor’s Note: Maribel Steel is a Melbourne-based author and freelance writer, motivational speaker and positive vision educator. She is legally blind, a keen traveler and an award-winning blogger and Toastmaster. You can find this story, and many others, on her website, www.maribelsteel.com.)
I am often asked the question by sighted theatre lovers, “What’s the point of going to a live show if you’re blind?”
For the same reason as anyone else – to enjoy the performance.
After experiencing my first audio-described musical a couple of years ago, I am truly hooked and recommend you try it too. The difference it made to the enjoyment of a live show was immense, thanks to a small group of dedicated audio describers from Vision Australia.
Before Audio Description
I have always held a particular fondness for musicals. But as a person with a degenerative eye condition, I have to rely on my sighted companions to keep me up to speed with the happenings on a theatre stage or movie screen.
We often risk annoying those people around us who haven’t noticed my folded white cane and turn to tell us off for whispering during a show. So I sit back in my seat, feeling somewhat annoyed to be missing the visual cues, and hope at some point the show will begin to make sense to blind eyes.
Flower Children: A Sensory Experience
I had heard of the audio description services from Vision Australia for some time but had never experienced it. When I received an email alert that the musical, “Flower Children: The Story of The Mamas and Papas” was coming to the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne and was being offered as an audio-described show, I knew I had to book two seats.
What happened next was a real eye-opener. The person at Vision Australia sent me an email with a detailed description of the costumes and stage props, everything that a sighted person would see on the night of the show.
I read it through with my computer software for the blind, and it was like having my own private viewing before the performance. The notes painted a vivid picture: “Papa John, played by Matt Hetherington, is a man in his early thirties. He is approximately 6 feet tall, and of medium build. He has brown eyes, short brown hair and sports a beard…”
On the night of the show, Harry and I rocked up with great anticipation. Friendly volunteers from Vision Australia greeted us and gave instructions on how to use the portable radio receiver and off we went to find our seats.
Using the device with earphones was as easy as singing along to “California Dreamin’.” For the first time in my theatre viewing life, I could keep up with the whole story. The clear voices of the volunteers speaking through my earphones brought the entire show to life.
I was laughing (and crying) at the gestures being described, understood who was coming on and off the stage and imagined the colorful descriptions of the shifting props on stage.
At one point, Harry leaned in close to describe a scene but before he could speak, I grinned with eyes alight, and said, “I know!”
Did this sensory experience get any better? It sure did.
Meeting the Actors
After the performance of “The Flower Children,” a tactile tour of the stage had been arranged for any blind or vision-impaired person in the audience to get nice and close to feel the props in a guided tour by the stage manager. I can tell you, many excited hands felt the props and costumes worn by the actors.
While we sat up on stage on the same steps used in the show, Matt Hetherington (Papa John) came to join us and we launched into a rendition of one of the show’s hit songs.
So if you are still wondering, what’s the point of going to a live show, I can only say, you’ve got to take a sighted friend and experience the thrill together!