Photo for Audio Description Brought the Stage to Life

Audio Description Brought the Stage to Life

If spending an afternoon in front row seats at the theatre is your kind of heaven, imagine how excited I was to find out that the show I was going to see would also be accessible to me.

Last Thursday I went to see Hairspray at The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. Perhaps it’s because I’m totally blind that I prefer the theatre to cinema; it sounds so much closer and more real, somehow. I love belting out songs from my favourite musicals, so when I saw that Hairspray was on the programme, I got straight on the phone to book.What’s more, the show notes said that this was an audio described production. I was surprised because I’ve been to lots of performances over the years and only a couple of those have been audio described. I sit in the audience wearing a headset whilst a trained volunteer, who sits a little apart from us, describes what’s going on during the show. It’s no easy job as there can be so much action on the stage. Singing, dancing and how characters interact with each other are just some of the things the describer has to explain. If you want an idea of what the description sounds like, you can often find an ‘audio descriptive narration’ setting on your television. You may even have turned it on by accident!I was invited to arrive early so that the staff could give me an introduction to the show and talk to me about the description they were going to give. 

Lots of visually impaired people had come to see Hairspray and there was a lot of excitement as we gathered for the talk. The staff explained that they usually allow people to go on stage and feel the characters’ costumes as well as any props used in the play. They are hoping to be able to do this again when things around the Coronavirus pandemic settle down. I thought it was brilliant that we got to meet the two volunteers who would be describing the play. Judy and Jenny gave us a thorough description of what the stage set looked like, and they were great at answering our questions. After we were given our headsets and had been shown how to use them, we took our seats. 

By this point I was almost quivering with anticipation and my foot started tapping as soon as the first bar of Good Morning Baltimore opened the show. I was enthralled by the mixture of uplifting music and the description coming through my headphones. There are lots of characters in Hairspray and the show moves fast. I was so impressed that Judy and Jenny would quickly say a character’s name in between the singing or speech so that I knew who was speaking. It was all over far too quickly, but not before I’d had a sneaky singsong behind my face mask!

Keep checking the Everyman Theatre’s profile to find out about their other accessible performances.