Alan Marshall Bella Edwards Bob Howourth Brian Davis Brenda Cook Carol Chilcott Claude Rimmer David Conn David Glover-Kirk David Parry-Jones David Scott David Talbot faustus group Jack Mundy Jacky Long Joan Clews Joan Goodyear John Vowles Kathy Stewart Kevin Hogan Lizzie Lane Lyn Martin Mary Lansdown Nicholas Selway Peter Sutton Richard Edwards Robert Chapman Robert Tooze Royston Tanner Sarah McGreevy Stephen Canaby This River Winding Tina Kelly Tom Hodson georgeT

Improvisation Actors’ strengths Accessibility

Making the play accessible to people with impairments

It is important to us that we try to make our play accessible to everyone. With Faustus we experimented with trying to make the play a better theatrical experience for visually impaired people. This section tells you more about how we went about it.

a sketch of magic symbols
The magic symbols by Carol Chilcott

a sketch of devils dancing
Dancing devils by Carol Chilcott

When we were working on Faustus, we came to realise that our work was very visual. This could make our work inaccessible to people with visual impairments.

Why is this a problem?

If our work is not accessible to people with visual impairments, we are causing them to be disabled. If we truly believe in the social model of disability, then we need to change the way we work, so that our work is more accessible.  We had two choices. Find a way of using the sorts of services already used in theatres to make plays accessible to visually impaired people, or to try something new.

What is the social model of disability? See Social model of disability in About art + power section

What services are available at theatres for visually impaired people now?

our experiments in access

Many theatres recognise that visually impaired people wish to come to see plays, but sometimes have problems accessing the venue and the work they’ve come to see.

There are three main services that theatres offer to improve access:

What is audio description?

Many theatres now offer an audio description service to visually impaired people. At certain performances, audience members can request use of a headset. Through this they can listen to an audio describer. This is a person who has special training in describing the visual content of the play.

Advantages of audio description:

Disadvantages:

It could be argued that audio description fulfils the opposite of the ideals of the social model of disability. That is to say, it is an extra service that tries to "overcome’ any limitations on the visually impaired person’s ability to enjoy the performance. It helps the disabled person to adapt to society, not the other way around.

Through our contact with dancer, actor and director Holly Thomas, we decided to experiment with audio description, but in a different form. Holly has been working on integrated audio description, where the explanation of the visual parts of a performance are made an artistic element in the performance, and not added on.

We invited Holly to help us adapt two scenes of the play to include integrated audio description. We then asked a number of visually impaired audience members to form a focus group, and asked them if our experiment in audio description helped them to understand what was happening onstage.

Holly helped us with two scenes in Faustus: the opening scene, and the devil’s dance. We’ll concentrate on the changes to the devil’s dance scene here.

a sketch of a choir
The Devil's choir by Carol Chilcott

a sketch of a man being crowned
The coronation by Carol Chilcott

Originally, the devil’s dance scene had no lines of poetry, and no song, only music. Five actors wearing long red snake’s tongues would rise up from the floor, hissing, and begin to whirl to the music. Other actors would join them, bringing the devil’s crown onstage to present to Faustus. With Holly we worked on adding lines of poetry to the beginning of the dance. We hoped that this would make the scene clearer to all our audience members.

We also added the song, to help make the presentation of the crown more understandable. View the clip, then try to imagine the scene without the singing - there would be no clues for a visually impaired person to know what was happening.

link to video of the coronation of Faustus
The coronation of Faustus, video clip

Was our integrated description useful to our focus group? Did they think it necessary? Or would they have preferred traditional audio description?

They found it atmospheric, as well as very useful. This is good, because it means that the description formed part of the performance.

They also liked the lines of poetry at the beginning of the dance, and the hissing of the snakes. They didn’t know that the actors were wearing red tongues, but weren’t sure if this mattered.

BUT...

Apart from the sound of the actors whirling to the music, they didn’t have any clues about what was happening between the audio description cues. When the actors stopped moving, they got no information about what might be happening visually. They didn’t know that the crown came onstage being worn by a mask on a long stick.

So did the integrated description work?

We believe it added to the performance for all audience members, not just those with visual impairments. But we could take it further. Our focus group suggested having more sound effects, like the snakes hissing, or the lighting of the candle and the flicking pages of books in the first scene of the play.

We’ll think about these suggestions, and think about ways of making this and future plays more accessible. We know that the road to accessibility is a long one, but it is also an exciting journey - and an artistic one.

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