Accessible days out with The Royal Shakespeare Company

Journalist Vidar Hjardeng MBE is a Diversity Consultant for ITV News across England, Wales and the Channel Islands. In 2012 he was awarded an MBE as part of the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for his services to visually impaired people, and to broadcasting. He recently joined charity Focus Birmingham, which supports people affected by sight loss, as their Director of External Communications. In this article, Vidar explains how the Royal Shakespeare Company makes it possible for people with visual impairments to experience the theatre.

Thankfully, for visually impaired theatre patrons in recent years, audio described performances have become an integral part of many theatre schedules, and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s programme is no exception.

To ensure that any blind, or partially sighted, theatre-goer gets the most from a visit to one or other of its venues – including the Swan and of course the main theatre itself, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, the RSC provides, what I have always found to be, a thoroughly enjoyable and extremely absorbing and inclusive, audio-described experience. For each play produced, there is normally one evening and one matinee show which is audio-described by a small group of highly professional audio-describers, whose carefully crafted scripts – evidently based on meticulous preparation – are skilfully delivered ‘live’ via an easy to operate head-set. These can be collected from the cloakroom where helpful staff can, if required, show people how they work.

Fifteen minutes before curtain-up there are some really useful pre-show notes giving details of the play, the cast, their characters and costumes. This introduction is also a very useful reminder for those who have taken advantage of the specially arranged illuminating “touch tour” an hour or so before of the set and some of the key props used in the production. This scene-setting information can also be accessed in advance online, or a CD can be sent out on request, enabling people to digest the comprehensive material at their leisure, before arriving at the theatre to be warmly welcomed by the front-of-house team and more often than not one of the volunteers.

I certainly feel like a “VIP” in every sense of the term whenever I go to see an audio-described play at Stratford, and I sincerely hope that more fellow blind and partially sighted people will, like me, have their eyes opened to the real value of the audio-described experience at the RSC. It really has made such a huge difference to my enjoyment, not only of the Bard’s tragedies, comedies and histories, but also of many other works by a diverse range of writers, past and present, brought compellingly to the stage by this world famous company.

Click here to view information on audio described performances, touch tours and captioned performances.

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