Access for All…

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Chair of Birmingham Hippodrome’s Access Forum, Vidar Hjardeng talks about the theatre’s work in making live performance accessible for all…

During my time in Birmingham, going back some years now, I have always been a fan of the theatre and attending performances here at Birmingham Hippodrome. Over the last few years my enjoyment has been enhanced by the audio described performances, part of the Hippodrome’s commitment to access for all.

Vidar Hjardeng

Vidar Hjardeng

Audio Described performances are a wonderful experience. As I sit in my seat in the auditorium everything visual performed on stage is relayed to me through a headset by two audio describers who sit in a booth at the back of the theatre. They describe facial expressions, humour or tragedy and really enhance the theatre experience for any blind or partially sighted patron.

One of the aspects of the audio described performances that make it a VIP experience (Visually Impaired Person/Very Important Person) is the Touch Tour. Touch Tours takes place about one and a half hours before a show where blind and partially sighted theatre patrons get the chance to go on stage, sometimes meet the cast or backstage staff, explore the set and get close up to key aspects of the performance including props and costumes.

My most recent experience of a Touch Tour was during the recent run of the National Theatre’s War Horse at the Hippodrome. We met the puppeteers and cast who gave a fascinating insight into their work on the production and I got a real feel for how Joey the horse comes to life on stage. Probably one of the most impressive Touch Tours I have been on!

Patrons enjoy at touch tour at BRB's Cinderella

Patrons enjoy at touch tour at BRB’s Cinderella

About 3 or 4 years ago now Liz Leck, the theatre’s Creative Learning Manager, mentioned setting up an Access Forum where members with varying access needs could feedback and have a role in Birmingham Hippodrome and improving on the service it provides to patrons including those with a disability. I was asked to Chair the Forum and now, some years on, we have really done a lot of work, thanks to the passion of the theatre staff, in providing a top class service to those with access needs who come along to experience a show.

The Access Forum, who meet at the theatre every 3 months is an incredibly important part of the theatre’s work. Because of the rapport built up between members of staff and members of the Forum, people feel that they can express their views and that they are listened to making it all worthwhile and an invaluable platform.

I am a huge evangelist when it comes to the benefits for blind and partially sighted people. Particularly the Audio Described performances and Touch Tours. If you haven’t already do please give it a go it makes such a difference to the theatre experience.

Vidar is currently Diversity Consultant for ITV News and was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2012 Queen’s New Years Honours List for his services to Visually Impaired People and to Broadcasting. Tune in to a Podcast with Vidar here…

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One comment on “Access for All…

  1. Katie Fraser says:

    I love the access forum and proud to be a honourary member and I know I do not live in Birmingham but it makes coming to the forum a privilege and staying to come attend the forum. I have also been on a touch tour and although I am sighted I understood how Vidjar and many other blind people can find this a valuable experience. I now work with a blind social group in my area of Herts and find that valuable and a real insight into how the users of the group want to not feel isolated and the group is a fun and social aspect of their week!

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