Assisted Performances – My City

BY Almeida Theatre   October 21, 2011

At the Almeida Theatre we strive to make our productions as accessible as possible. As well as making the building accessible this means programming a range of Assisted Performances throughout the year. Coming up for My City we have a Captioned Performance on Tuesday 25 October at 7.30pm, then on Saturday 29 October the matinee production will be Audio Described by VocalEyes and will be preceded by a Touch Tour. Here our Access Officer, Miranda Yates, talks us through this process and gives us an insight into the experience of attending the theatre if you are blind or visually impaired.  


 Audio description captures the visual elements of a production that may be missed by someone who is a blind or partially sighted. The key visual elements of the production are described in clear, dynamic language to reflect the style of the production and compliment the actor’s performances. In theatre the describer fits their description in the spaces between the dialogue, so they’re not speaking over the actors. Describers are also conscious not to overload the listener and try wherever possible to give them a little of the space that allows the production to ‘breathe’ that the rest of the audience experiences.

Examples of what might be described are things like, a visual joke, a dance routine, a sword fight or a character’s facial expressions and mannerisms in reaction to what another character is saying. Another example could be the visual picture that sometimes builds over a scene change that may not be essential to the plot but is integral to the style and rhythm of the performance.

On a practical note, audio description is a ‘live commentary’ delivered through a lightweight headset that uses either radio or infra red signal. Describers will sit watching the show either from the technician’s box or remotely watching the show on a monitor. Some plays may need very little description whilst others may be quite dense – it really depends on the show. In the days before audio description, and sadly still in some theatres where there is no audio description, people rely on sighted friends whispering in their ear to let them know what’s happening, so as you can imagine less than satisfactory for anyone in the audience. Having an audio described show allows someone who is blind or partially sighted to have a similar experience to the sighted audience.

Try closing your eyes next time you go to the theatre to see a show and that might give you an idea of just how important all the visual aspects are, and how frustrating it must be if you’re left there thinking ‘what’s happening?!’
Another important aspect of the audio described performance is the Touch tour, and for many blind or partially sighted people, it’s an essential part of their visit. Touch tours add another layer to their understanding of the production, and ultimately make it much easier to engage with a performance. They’re a chance to explore the set and its dimensions, textures, props and furniture. This helps to clarify the descriptive information that people have already received on an audio CD that is sent out in advance with details of the set and characters and practical information on the theatre.

Sometimes the describers may not have time to describe something live in the performance so a touch tour is a chance to bring it light. A really successful touch tour is a real ‘get together’ as it needs everyone to be involved; audio describers, front of house staff, technical staff, stage management and of course the acting company. One of the really interesting aspects of the touch tour for me is that because so many different departments are involved, there are often additional aspects of the production that are uncovered, like something an actor discovered as part of their rehearsal process or the story behind a piece of furniture from the stage management team. For many people meeting the actors is a real highlight but it can be really valuable when, l for example there are a number of characters of similar sex and age possibly even dressed in a similar way, meeting these people individually, hearing their different voices and accents helps break down that picture of apparent similarity to seeing their individuality. Touch tours for me are a great chance to meet the audience, many of whom have now been coming for a number of years so it’s nice to catch up an find out what other productions people have been to and for new visitors it’s great to put faces to names and to listen to people’s reactions.

For more information on our Assisted Performances and how to book one click here