What is it like to watch a show when you can’t literally see?
My name is Grace Hill and I am sixteen years old. I have been completely Blind in both eyes since birth. If you had never met me before, you might think I was mad for going to the theatre. You might wonder why I am willing to waste my time trying to fit in to something so visual and thus seemingly impossible. If you were to think that I was trying to “fit in” by watching shows, you could not be more wrong. Just like a sighted person, I love the experience of going to the theatre. I love the buzz of waiting for the show to start. I love the whizz and bang of the sound effects throughout the duration. Just like you, I can watch a piece of theatre. I just watch it without seeing it, and that is the only difference.
My first experience of theatre was eleven years ago, when I was five years old. I went to see a Rock and Roll pantomime performance of ‘Robin Hood’ at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. I felt absolutely honoured to be included in something so visual. Everyone else who was there with me was sighted, but I enjoyed it just like they did. The whole experience was liberating way beyond the glitz and glamour that wins every 5-year-old girl’s heart. From that moment, I was in love. I thrived off the buzz and was hooked on the sound of singing and laughter that quickly became more synonymous with theatre than the fact I missed the little visual jokes as they were constantly being laughed at.
However, I haven’t just been to see Pantomimes. I have been to more serious shows, such as the accessible political drama ‘The Government Inspector’ which came to the New Wolsey Theatre in April 2016. The access arrangements were fantastic and meant that I was able to have a good time whilst enjoying the show just like everybody else did.
There are many different ways in which I experience theatre, although these are mostly different types of audio description. Sometimes, I will have the show described by someone who is watching it with me, and I will tell them every time I start to recognise a character so that as the show progresses I gradually need less description. However, I will usually use an audio description headset. If you are familiar with the audio description that is used on the television, the headsets work in a similar way, but having the headset means that any sighted audience members do not have to listen to the description as the action unfolds. Every show that I have seen has been special in its own right. I may not be able to tell you about the lead actress wearing her pretty dress, or the funny moment where the ballerina lost her shoe; but I can hear the laughter and feel the love when I am at the theatre, and that definitely makes for a bright light in a world without sight.
For anyone who is visually impaired or blind, and is thinking about going to the theatre, I would say it’s an amazing thing to do. The idea of theatre is to bring the world together and I don’t believe your eyes need to work properly for you to be a part of that. In my eyes, theatre is one of the best forms of integration that you will ever come across. Just like you, I love the atmosphere of togetherness. I love being able to laugh at the same things as a sighted person can laugh at. I love watching shows – without seeing them.
By Grace Hill