Feel the sequins: touch tours and headset hosts are a sensation for visually impaired audiences | Theatre

Growing up, journeys to the theatre for me concerned squinting at the stage, unable to comply with what was taking place. Being partially sighted, performs have felt out of my attain. However now right here I’m standing on the stage at Curve theatre in Leicester, operating my fingers alongside the delicate gold sequins of a costume for A Refrain Line. There are round a dozen of us at this pre-show speak for visually impaired individuals, which provides us a likelihood to familiarise ourselves with the efficiency we’ll be watching in an hour’s time.

Earlier than the pandemic, this pre-show speak would have taken the type of a touch tour, the place we’d get to really feel extra of the costumes and set. As we speak we will solely touch two costumes because of Covid security precautions, however even by the skinny gloves we put on, I can really feel the texture, the snag of chiffon and sequins, and see particulars up shut. Our information, Nadine Beasley for Speaking Sense Audio Description Companies, tells us how the vibrant lighting in the present’s finale will make these outfits dazzle.

We see a number of different costumes as Beasley talks us by the rack of leotards and checked shirts, telling us which outfit belongs to which character. She additionally describes the set and offers us the background to A Refrain Line. Beth Hinton-Lever, who performs Bebe in the present, pops in to introduce herself and offers a useful description of what she’s going to appear to be on stage. The speak leaves me with a grounding in the play, the set and its characters, and I really feel tentatively hopeful that it’ll assist me comply with the motion.

Many theatres provide accessible performances, with diversifications from signal language and captioning to dementia-friendly and relaxed viewings. I requested artist Jamie Hale, who lately directed CRIPtic Pit Party at the Barbican, about theatre entry. They informed me about a few of the boundaries they expertise, corresponding to lack of wheelchair entry, and having to cellphone to e book accessible tickets. Whereas there have been enhancements, the inclusion of extra disabled individuals in the business, Hale says, would enhance theatre’s accessibility.


Tonight’s efficiency of A Refrain Line shall be audio-described by Beasley, giving a dwell account of the motion, delivered by way of headsets that also enable us to listen to every little thing taking place on stage. Different viewers members gained’t hear the audio description.

We return to the auditorium about 20 minutes earlier than the present. Whereas I fiddle with the quantity on my headset, Beasley reads us an audio introduction. She describes the stage structure once more, every little thing from the giant mirrors at the again to particulars corresponding to the Seventies-style purple phone pinned to the left wall. She additionally runs by the essential characters, describing their hair, faces, eyes, garments and how they carry themselves. It’s a vibrant clarification: we study that the character Mike “strikes with a youthful swagger, sporting a cheeky smile” and Sheila “smoulders like a Thirties femme fatale”. Nonetheless, I’m nervous about whether or not I’ll be capable of comply with the play as soon as it begins.

the cast of A Chorus Line, including Beth Hinton-Lever as Bebe Benzenheimer, centre.
‘I spot Bebe shortly’ … the solid of A Refrain Line, together with Beth Hinton-Lever as Bebe Benzenheimer, centre. {Photograph}: Marc Brenner

Quickly the stage is crammed with figures dancing. From my seat three rows from the entrance, I can see the stream of individuals shifting, and Beasley’s description helps me make sense of it. She explains the choreography all through the present, the “arms flailing, ft tapping”, “undulating twists”, pirouettes and leaps, characters sashaying throughout the stage, the shapes they solid with their our bodies. It brings their actions to life in my thoughts.

She describes different actions, corresponding to characters stepping ahead or leaving the stage, and expressions too – characters’ eyes locking, or them fidgeting nervously. She captures the tenderness of the second when Zach and Paul hug, describing the heat of their embrace. I really feel the weight of it with the identical power as absolutely sighted viewers members. The commentary feels pure, by no means distracting from the motion or dialogue.

I recognise outfits from the pre-show speak, and spot Bebe shortly, remembering how Hinton-Lever described the character’s lengthy purple hair. Throughout the finale, my thoughts goes again to the look and really feel of the golden costumes, and how Beasley mentioned they sparkle in the gentle.

One in every of the hardest issues about watching theatre rising up was not having the ability to inform which character was talking. When you possibly can’t see individuals’s lips transfer, voices hold unaccounted for, indifferent from bodily type. When the tempo permits, Beasley says the identify of a character earlier than they converse or sing. And this, maybe greater than something, makes a big distinction for me.

For the first time, I’m capable of comply with a play. And it’s a revelation. I can get pleasure from theatre! I really feel included. I’m a part of this shared expertise. As I depart the auditorium and hand again my headset, I’ve joyously entered a new world, one I as soon as felt I didn’t belong in however am now excited to discover.

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