Meet the VocalEyes associate theatres

VocalEyes believes that blind and partially sighted people should have the best possible opportunities to experience and enjoy art and heritage. To this end the number of audio-described performances delivered annually through our theatre programme has increased massively in recent years: from 82 at 36 different UK venues in 2009-10, to 180 at 93 UK venues in 2016-17.

This growth has been wonderful, but while we want to make as much theatre accessible as possible, our aim isn’t simply to grow the number of performances, it is also about the quality of the service, and ensuring that as many people as possible know about theatre audio description, so that they can make use of it. In addition to delivering audio descriptions, we are regularly in touch with theatres and producers across the country answering their questions and offering advice about putting on an audio-described performance, but it can be difficult to fully engage with venues that we don’t work at, or where we only work only once or twice a year.

Between October 2006 and March 2010 we partnered with Stagetext on the See a Voice project supporting 27 venues across England to deliver good quality, in-house audio described and captioned performances. The project was possible thanks to a large grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England, and once it ended many access programmes at those venues have prospered, but some have struggled without on-going support.

So, we asked ourselves: how do we continue to increase the number, quality, and prominence of opportunities for theatre goers who are blind or partially sighted to enjoy theatre?

One of our responses was to create an associate theatre programme, which has attracted funding from the Kirsh Family Trust for a two-year trial. The programme is deliberately flexible as each venue and its needs are different, but it includes support with marketing, technical advice and equipment loans, creation of recorded access information, awareness training for customer facing staff, and a full audit of provision along with general advice and support.

The venues that joined the programme in April 2017 are:

After the Associate Theatre Programme was launched, the Park Theatre in London enquired about the scheme and joined us in October.

‘Vocaleyes have been instrumental in shaping our services and enabling us to offer the varied described programme of musicals, plays, ballet and opera to blind and partially sighted people. Vocaleyes don’t just help us to create live magical moments but also offer assistance and valuable input from the very beginning of an idea through to the evaluation afterwards. They constantly examine and evaluate and never rest on their laurels which results in new innovative ideas.’

Emily Malen, Front of House Manager & Access Development, Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

If you are interested in finding out more about the scheme, please contact Michael Kenyon our Theatre Programme Manager, [email protected]

Image at top of page: Salisbury Playhouse, photo credit: Chris Zuidyk.