This is a guest blog post by Matthew Harrington, Front of House Operations Coordinator, ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage.
This past April, ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage (presenting organization I work for at Emerson College in Boston) showcased a performance called "Not By Bread Alone". The acting troupe, consisting of eleven deaf-blind actors hails from Israel's Nalaga'at Theater Ensemble.
Nalaga'at brought to us an adventure that was challenging and certainly uncommon for us. Not only were we preparing for the eleven actors and their companions but also the audiences from the deaf-blind communities that were going to be attending the performances. There were so many T’s to cross and I’s to dot along the way to make sure we as a staff were ready and aware of what we were going to experience.
A week before the run of the show we brought in Judy Berk from Cultural Access Consortium to do some training with the staff who would be working hands-on with the company and audience. Needless to say the training was fantastic. It opened our eyes to a new awareness that tends to be forgotten by most who do not have a disability or do not come in contact with a person with a disability on a daily basis. The training brought our organization closer together and really gave me that feeling that I was part of something special. One thing Judy said that touched me was to treat the audience and company members with disabilities as I would any other patron that enters our theaters. Now this may sound so easy and obvious but when I'm in the moment of interacting with someone with a disability, I tend to overcompensate or try to do too much when all I really need to do is relate to the person in a normal manner. I remember a prime example of this happening during the first few days the company was here.
A bunch of the company members were walking into the building and needing to get to the dressing rooms. I thought to myself "Oh wow, this is a great opportunity to help out and get them where they need to go." I brought the big group to the elevator, pressed the button to the floor I thought they were going to, got off the elevator and noticed no one left with me. I thought "Oh no! I lost this group of actors in this huge building! They’ll never find their way around." Little did I realize, they knew exactly where they were going and didn't need my help at all, for which I was much relieved.
Hosting a company like Nalaga'at was eye-opening not just from a theater company standpoint but from the audience point of view as well. I was able to interact with many patrons and to accommodate their specific needs. By providing Braille and large-print programs, assisted listening devices, audio description and subtitles we were able to supply audience members with the tools to fully experience "Not By Bread Alone".
This was a large step in the right direction for our organization. Decisions were made with an educated awareness of accessibility and that became a catalyst which allowed the disabled community of Boston to experience quality theater firsthand.