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Disability Arts Online

audio-visual disorientation. / 23 March 2013

Last week I joined an audio-description training introduction and as a result was offered a taster touch-tour and audio-described performance at Salisbury Playhouse by their professional, very helpful team.

Touch-tours normally take place on a stage which is, unfortunately, not wheelchair accessible, but I did manage to wheel close enough to feel the grassy surface texture of the set.

I had earlier been emailed a link to the Playhouse website's audio information, but had found the set description quite confusing. Once in the space I realised that I had not taken the thrust of the stage into account, nor gleaned any idea of relative sizes. I began to get some insight into the amount effort I would need to put into this.

The set was in fact, quite simple and during the performance, remained unchanged apart from the addition of a few seasonal props.

The props being so few and simple, this particular touch-tour was not particularly touchy-feely, more an opportunity to converse with the actors and gain insight into the visual changes that guide sighted audiences through the twelve years covered by the play.

The actors were really helpful with information that enriched the experience without giving away any story, but vocally I found most of them hard to isolate.

This play (Joking Apart, by Alan Ayckbourn), is heavy on dialogue with not that much action, so that aspect was relatively simple to audio describe.Which really was a good thing because my tinnitus is having a very bad patch.

The sound equipment picked up all the ambient noise in this busy theatre and magnified it indiscriminately in my ears - making the introductory words hard to distinguish as they began around ten minutes before the play started. The degree of focus and concentation necessary was hard work.

As a sighted person I was intrigued by the extra dimension offered and its effect on my experience of theatre. Because the describing task was shared by a team, the play seemed to change character in quite a surreal way and I came away from the performance with a lot of loose ends in my head, a lot of questions, and food for thoughts about pursuing this further.

I also felt disorientated, with a far greater than normal sense of detachment from time and place that heightened all the colours on my journey home.

"Introduce yourself
with touch
and be aware you need
to build confidence.
Know your route.
Don't overload, give
concise directions
and be aware,
of levels, textures, footspace.

Use body for reference,
distance and height, and use
the clock face for
orientation."

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