Part of your world: Globe Theatre offers 'accessible' performance of The Little Mermaid

The Regina theatre offered its first relaxed and audio-described performance on Saturday, inviting an audience of all ages and abilities to see The Little Mermaid.

Regina theatre debuts audio description, relaxed environment

The sound was softened and the lights were left up in the crowd for the performance. (Chris Graham Photo)

Regina resident Michelle Bush had the chance to enjoy theatre in a whole new way on Saturday.

Leaving the Globe Theatre with her friend and her seeing-eye dog, the longtime fan of the theatre said she was often held back because of her visual impairment.

She heard about audio-described performances at venues in Vancouver and sent an email to Regina's Globe Theatre suggesting they look into it.

"Within 10 minutes I got a reply back saying, 'That is awesome. We should do that. Let's set up a meeting.'"

Four months later, five people in Saturday's audience were able to take in the Globe's first audio-described performance, including Bush.

Amber-Joy Boyd and Michelle Bush got to enjoy the first audio-described performance at the Globe Theatre on Saturday. (Alex Soloducha/CBC News)

"I wasn't really sure how many people were going to use it so for there to be five for the first time that's actually really exciting," she said.

The performance on June 24 featured a narrator inside the theatre. In between the lines and the verses, he spoke into a microphone describing the action that was taking place on the stage for visually-impaired audience members who wore headsets.

Amber-Joy Boyd, who is partially sighted, said she enjoyed the words that were used. She said when Ariel would go offstage, the narrator would say, "She swam out of the theatre."

"It wasn't just, 'She was picked up by four other actors and carried off stage,' because that would have been boring and not nearly as magical as theatre is supposed to be," said Boyd.

Relaxed environment

Disney's The Little Mermaid on June 24 at the Globe was also the theatre's first "relaxed" performance.

Open to everyone, the environment was adapted for people with autism, physical and cognitive disabilities and families with small children.

Before the play began, all the actors came out in costume and were introduced to the audience. For those who are partially sighted or blind, they had the chance to hear each actor's voice. For others, they were able to get used to all the colours on stage.

Stephanie Sy plays Ariel in the Globe Theatre's production of The Little Mermaid. (Chris Graham Photo.)

Compared to the average night at the theatre, there was a bit more whispering and wiggling.

"You felt like, it's OK if I lean over and whisper to my friend if something was missed," Boyd said. "It's really nice that they want to include everybody in theatre because theatre is a magical, amazing thing."   

The crew left the house lights over the audience on so the theatre never got fully dark. They softened the volume and allowed people to bring in noise-cancelling headphones. They also let audience members leave and re-enter the theatre at any point during the show.

Accessibility catching on

The Globe's shift towards accommodation is ongoing. Two years ago, the theatre began offering performances with American Sign Language for the hearing impaired.

The performance gave young audience members the option to talk and move around. (Chris Graham Photo)

Ruth Smillie, artistic director and CEO, said Saturday's performance was inspired by members of their program, Improv for Autism, which began three years ago.

"I think it raised all of our awareness of how isolating it can be to be a person on the spectrum or to have a child on the spectrum or to be someone who finds it difficult to make it through a performance without standing up, sitting down and moving around," said Smillie.

"It's all about accommodation."

It's a welcome change for audience members like Bush and Boyd, who both said they want to see more performances at the theatre offered with audio descriptions and relaxed viewing.

"There have been some awesome plays that have come to Globe in the past couple years that I would've loved to have seen," Boyd said.