I’ve just completed an accessibility assessment of the beautiful Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch as a Be.Accessible assessor. The theatre was restored with replicas of all the original features following the 2011 earthquake, so I was very impressed with how they have gone the extra mile with creating a really accessible theatre facility whilst still working within a heritage listed building. This is no mean feat!
Particular features that caught my attention included that within the auditorium they have put in spaces for both self- propelling and larger electric wheelchairs along with several larger (bariatric) chairs for people of bigger build. They, have installed a lift to allow patrons to easily reach all floors and have accessible toilets at all levels. They also have a wonderful staff of very helpful people to make the visit even more enjoyable.
I noticed while I was there that one of the upcoming shows is Puccini’s opera ‘Tosca’. As with so many live performances, opera is not just about the music; it’s also about the action, the costumes and the drama, so imagine what it must be like to be listening to the wonderful music, but not knowing what the performers are doing or wearing.. Freya Alexander, the theatre’s enthusiastic event coordinator mentioned something that caught my attention as we were discussing the additional accessibility facilities of the theatre which was the creation of touch tours organised by New Zealand Opera with support from the NZ Blind Foundation. These tours allow people who are visually impaired to be able to go to the theatre before a performance and feel the costumes, guided by people who describe the outfits to them, let them know who will be wearing them and what role that person is playing in the opera. This must really help to bring to life the characters as they hear them sing. The NZ Opera has also put together an audio recording that’s available for them to listen to, that describes what is happening during the performance.
The opera put out this information:
“New Zealand Opera is presenting an audio described performance during its March 2018 season of Tosca in Christchurch. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the full opera experience with the action onstage described through headsets discreetly throughout the performance. Prior to the performance there will also be an opportunity to take part in a touch tour, where you’ll be taken on stage to get up close to the set, props and costumes. Members of the Blind Foundation will be present during the touch tour and performance for assistance. Guide dogs welcome.
For those who require it, companion seating is provided free of charge.”
So, if you know anyone who loves music but feel it is a waste of time for them to go to an opera because their sight is too poor, let them know that there are amazing opportunities open to them to be able to experience opera in a way which they may have thought was impossible!
I would love to see more businesses get involved in this type of initiative. As an accessibility assessor, I thought I was right up with the play, but this initiative has certainly given me food for thought, and I have started to think how I might be able to make a difference in life of others with accessibility issues. And I would like to issue this challenge, what can you do in your business to truly make a difference and make your business experience accessible to all.