VocalEyes (www.Vocaleyes.co.uk) was founded in 1989 and operates as a charity. Their mission is:
“We believe that blind and partially sighted people should have the best possible opportunities to experience and enjoy art and heritage.”
VocalEyes have specific dates where they will audio describe a live performance. I’ve never tried their museum tours but have used them to enjoy several shows in town including Chicago, Avenue Q, Billy Elliot, Wicked and more recently (a birthday gift) The Lion King.
Although you are limited to the performances they are audio describing (which is sometimes only midweek) the whole experience of using VocalEyes is great. You book the tickets via VocalEyes at a reduced rate. This rate also applies to the party you’re travelling with as they are keen that you should be able to enjoy the experience with your family and friends. Often the seats are in the stalls and are usually centre stage and about 4 rows back from the front ensuring that the viewing position is perfect for people attending that have some useful vision. About a fortnight prior to the show, VocalEyes send out an audio CD that contains information about getting to the theatre, a full description of the set, characters and their costumes and any other information that is useful to know about during the performance.
On the day there is an optional touch tour that you can attend. This is usually 2 hours before the show is due to start and lasts for about 45 minutes. Some touch tours are held in one of the theatre side rooms with members of the cast bringing out some of the costumes and props for you to feel and hold so that you get a real picture of the detail, some tours are done on the actual stage. I remember going on the stage of Avenue Q and feeling the houses and then some of the puppets and again when I went to watch Wicked and being shown the stage props and how they operate as well as how they move in and out during the scene changes. The Lion King was held in a side room but I got to hold the Giraffe head and feel the mane of Mufasa as well as other costumes and props – an amazing opportunity and one that my children thought was brilliant too!
For the actual performance, the only difference between me and everyone else is that I wear a wireless radio headset. This picks up the live audio description feed from one of the VocalEyes volunteers. This has to be done live due to the unknown happenings from a live performance such as someone falling over or a problem with scene changes…it’s key that this is all audio described in real time so you receive the same information as everyone else at the performance and can understand why the audience are laughing, gasping etc.
VocalEyes is great and, for anyone who has a vision impairment and enjoys theatre but hasn’t tried them, I fully recommend giving them a go. We always try to use them so that I can enjoy the show with audio description as well as getting a hands on experience from the touch tours.
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