Author Glen Turner, Well Eye Never
Experiencing theatre with visual impairment
Visually impaired blogger and YouTuber Glen Turner explores what he loves about theatre and what theatres are doing to make his experience even better.
For many years I wasn’t a regular theatregoer as options felt very limited because of my sight loss. My distance vision isn’t great, I don’t adjust well to very bright or dim lighting, and it’s hard to focus on what’s happening in busy situations.
So accessing and navigating theatre buildings was difficult, and my understanding of scenes on stage was greatly reduced. I would go to the occasional show and could follow things to some extent, but I couldn’t clearly see costumes, props or body language, and I would often miss important visual aspects of the story. It was frustrating.
But after relocating to London two years ago, I discovered audio described performances, often including touch tours. It was a revelation. Being able to explore the set and handle some of the clothing and objects, coupled with audio description via headphones during the show itself, really helps to fill in the gaps. It ensures I don’t miss anything of interest or significance.
My first experience of this at The Old Vic was A Monster Calls, a powerful and relatable drama. The touch tour gave me a good sense of the size of the stage and the design of the props and costumes, including the clever use of ropes to form a large tree. And the audio description was vital for understanding the actions and emotional states of the characters, highlighting body language and facial expressions that I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise.
More recently, A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic was a real joy. The touch tour introduced us to the unique shape and construction of the stage, including secret compartments that played an important role, along with many of the props. We even got to meet a few members of the cast and crew. The audio description was again essential, describing the well-choreographed scene changes and elaborate set pieces, as well as character details. So I truly felt part of that very immersive production.
In both cases, the process of booking over the phone, and getting around The Old Vic in person, was made easy by the very welcoming and helpful staff.
I’ve had similarly positive experiences at other theatres too. Sure, there are one or two cases where the headsets haven’t worked properly, and some venues need to improve things like lighting, signage, edge marking on steps, wheelchair access, promotion of their access services, etc. So there is still work to be done. But for the most part my theatre visits have been enjoyable and comfortable.
I hope that accessibility, and awareness of its importance, continues to improve, and it’s great to see The Old Vic leading by example with their renovations. After all, disabled people want to attend the theatre like everyone else.
For me, my recent experiences have enabled and encouraged me to visit the theatre far more often, to watch a greater variety of shows. It’s opened up a whole new world that I’ll never get tired of exploring.
If you would like to read more about Glen’s adventures around London and beyond, you can visit his blog.
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