Neptune Theatre making more shows accessible to all

Neptune Theatre offered an American Sign Language performance of Cinderella on Saturday, but the theatre says this is just one part of an ongoing effort to be more inclusive.

'It's amazing for me to come to a show like this with my mom,' 13-year-old Sophie Crawford says

Marie-Josée Crawford has wanted to come to the theatre for a long time. On Saturday, she and her 13-year-old daughter Sophie Crawford were able to do just that. (Emma Davie/CBC)

For Marie-Josée Crawford, going to see a play with her daughter is a big deal.

Crawford, who is deaf, says it's not easy to find accessible activities that she and her 13-year-old can do together.

On Saturday, the pair were able to enjoy Cinderella together, thanks to Neptune Theatre's interpreted performance.

Neptune Theatre also held a sensory-friendly performance of Cinderella earlier this month. (Neptune Theatre/Facebook)

"It means a lot. To understand what the story's about, how they express it through American Sign Language and not have to rely on someone to say what they're saying," said Crawford. Debbie Johnson-Powell interpreted the interview.

"I'll be able to chat with Sophie my daughter and say, 'What did you think of the play and how did you enjoy it?'"

Sophie Crawford said they made a whole day of it — starting with brunch.

"It's amazing for me to come to a show like this with my mom," she said. "We don't get to go out a lot to stuff because we don't have the opportunity with an interpreter."

'We get to be a part of the community'

Betty MacDonald, who is also deaf, was one of the show's four interpreters. She said it's exciting to see the show come together.

"It means that we get to be a part of the community at large. Often, there are barriers within the community, but events like these allow us to participate," she said through interpreter Jana Delaney.

"It's such an important experience for children to see that accessibility in action. So they can see, not only as deaf children that that's something to be a part of, but as hearing children too, to see sign language in action."

Betty MacDonald was one of four interpreters at Saturday's show. (Emma Davie/CBC)

But it's been a lot of hard work, MacDonald said. The team worked through 80 pages of script to practice signing, understand the characters and learn the music.

"It's important for me to consider the body language and the expressions the actress has. I take part in the singing as well, so the rhythm is very important. Those songs and making sure that we can show that beat on screen," she said.

"This week I was practicing every single night and working with the team to make sure that each character was understood and interacting appropriately. The key is the teamwork."

Annie Valentina, artistic accomplice at Neptune Theatre, has been researching what other Canadian theatre companies are doing when it comes to accessibility. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Annie Valentina, artistic accomplice at Neptune Theatre, said they were projecting the interpreters on the wall of the theatre to make sure everyone could see them.

She said the ASL performance is just one part of an ongoing effort to make Neptune a more inclusive space.

"Accessibility is something we feel very passionate about," she said.

"Being a leader in the artistic field, [Neptune has] a responsibility to make sure that theatre is accessible to everyone and speaks to everyone."

Valentina said they also held a sensory-friendly performance, targeted for the autistic community and anyone with sensory concerns. They're also starting a program where people can donate tickets to members of the community who would otherwise not be able to attend a show.

Paul Vienneau, a disability advocate in Halifax, said he's impressed with how proactive Neptune has been — adding that he was invited to do a walk through last year to recommend how the space could be more accessible,

"They're making efforts and breaking the mold to be a real premiere place for people to go," he said.

"Accessibility is not a destination, like one day everything will be accessible. It's an ongoing process and a conversation, and they've been very open and willing to do that which is a huge thing."

Valentina said these steps are just the beginning for Neptune.

"We are very interested in feedback about how we can improve and how we can make it more widely accessible," she said.

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