To See or Not To See – Theatre Access – by Marnie Kerridge

Picture of William Shakespeare with quote – Unnatural deeds Do bring unnatural troubles. Infected minds To their deaf pillow will discharge their secrets.

“How should I interpret this in theatre? The word is Baroque, but it is a play on broke. ‘If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it!’”

I remember having a discussion about this with an interpreter who was doing the performance of Beauty and the Beast.  The very first interpreted theatre I saw and it was a fascinating insight in the thought, preparation and care in delivering an accessible theatre performance. I watched it in wonderment with my mother and sister. It was the start of my love affair with accessible theatre and sharing the experience with family and friends.

Did you know the United Nations Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities  (UNCRPD) clearly outlines that, “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to take part on an equal basis with others in cultural life..”

Fantastic! That’s my right to access the theatre ticked!

It also adds; “Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture. “

Even better. We can pick what the appropriate mode of access is– Auslan interpreters or captions that suits our disability best.

Finally the piece de resistance – “…that persons with disabilities should have the opportunity to be actively involved in decision-making processes about policies and programs, including those directly concerning them..”

We get to be consulted. We get to be asked what we want! Captions or Auslan interpreters or both! Fan-bloody-tastic!

Right now, interest in accessible theatre has never been higher.  We have Auslan Stage Left who provide interpreters for a wide variety of theatre, from big to small budget productions, from lavish musicals to minimalist dramas, from community events to book readings. For others, there is the Theatre Captioning Studio, who provides captioning access via iPads or TV units for usually different theatre productions from Auslan Stage Left. Other theatre venues also include hearing loops as another way to provide accessibility.

The Gordon Frost Organisation brings many popular productions to Australia. Of these, Dirty Dancing, Once, Wicked are some of their shows. Wicked was Auslan interpreted in Victoria this season.  Attendance and reviews were excellent. Then, the Gordon Frost Organisation decided to provide captions for Wicked in NSW only and did not provide an interpreted performance. Confusion reigned as to the sudden changes in accessibility without any prior consultation or reasoning.

Enquiries were made about Dirty Dancing and accessibility. Gordon Frost said it would be captioned. We asked about Auslan interpreting as well. The answer was no. It would only be captioned and they were trialling it as an option.

Surely that’s okay I hear you ask? Surely captions would be better suited for everyone, I hear you say? Well, being deaf is not the same experience for everyone. Different hearing levels, different language and literacy levels and different communication levels mean that the deaf population is very diverse. Not everyone has the speed to read captions quickly. Not everyone has the required English expertise to understand and decode text and understand the different layers of meaning in a sentence. This is where Auslan interpreting comes in.

The interpreters are skilled in translating the meaning, the nuances of dialogue, and the emotion within the voices of the actors. What we cannot hear clearly, the interpreters show.  The amount of work and professionalism the interpreters put into their show is amazing. Being a part of the Les Miserables experience as a language consultant gave me a better appreciation for the work they did. Over 80 people attended that night. It was a significant success.

We must not forget that captioning provides access to many people with a hearing loss who do not use Auslan. It is equally important. I watched Love Never Dies and a Shakespearean play with captions.  People who do not use Auslan have a right to theatre access too.

However, I love interpreted theatre because there is such a big community feel about it. Many people I know who use Auslan attend along with me. Sharing it with your friends and discussing the performance in detail after enhances the theatre experience.  Ideally theatres performances will provide access through both Auslan interpreting and captioning.  Let’s not also forget hearing assistance technology like loop systems; this enhances access also.

The UNCRPD clearly says we have a choice and we have the right to be consulted. An email sent to Gordon Frost saw them reply they were providing access in a manner they saw appropriate, albeit in a different form. Where was the consultation with their Deaf and hard of hearing consumers? Where is the acknowledgement that different access needs may be required?

Unfortunately the consultation did not occur. Gordon Frost were making decisions based on their own judgment and without consultation. Sadly this means that many people who prefer access through Auslan will not get the access that they require.

We have to educate and remind decision makers that to be deafness is diverse and access is different for everyone.  We must remind decision makers of  the right to choose the access that best suits us.  Most importantly we have to remind the decision makers of their requirement to consult.

Email Gordon Frost. Email producers of other theatres. Remind them of your right to have a choice. You are the one requiring access, not them. You are the one paying your view the show, not them. There is no one size that fits all, access requirements are diverse. We must remind and demand this from our theatre producers.

 “If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.”  Don’t let them break it!

If you wish to email your thoughts about theatre access do so to the following email addresses. Be sure to CC them all.

4 thoughts on “To See or Not To See – Theatre Access – by Marnie Kerridge

  1. Are you sure the word baroque “is a play on broke” as you have said?

    A cursory search of Google is not a basis for informed public commentary.

    • I believe what the writer was referring to in this instance was an actual line in the play that had to be translated to Auslan. It was really a play on the phonetics and not the meaning.

  2. This helps muddle through the essay with a degree of forgiveness by the reader. I suppose there is a point. I gather u speak for the author – your wife?

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