Tamsin Baxter, Director of Development
Going to the theatre is a special experience for any child at Christmas, but even more so for a child with a visual impairment. That’s why this year, the Vision Foundation has funded a very special theatre project for blind and partially sighted children working with our partner Mousetrap Theatre Projects. They work to unlock London’s world-renowned West End for children living with sight loss by organising touch tours and sensory workshops.
I was fortunate to join one of the workshops very recently for a production of “Some Like it Hip Hop” at London’s Peacock Theatre. Families with visually impaired children and their siblings were welcomed at the theatre by the Mousetrap team who explained what the day would involve over a cup of tea. After a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of back stage, the families were then invited onto the stage to touch and feel the set, props, costumes and to get a sense of the stage layout. The families were then split into two different groups. Each group was paired with an expert drama Leader from Mousetrap who took the families through a 90-minute drama workshop. The workshop was my favourite part of the day. The room was full of laughter, anticipation and wonder. It was marvellous and I know it set the perfect scene for the audio-described matinee that followed later that day.
Growing up, the panto season was a big part of my childhood. I have fantastic memories of our family coming together to spend the afternoon attending a local performance of a classic fairy-tale story. I loved the glamour of the theatre, the set, the build-up to the beginning of the show, then I loved seeing the costumes and the characters and always anticipated the songs and the ‘he’s behind you’ jokes. It has now become a family tradition for my own family each Christmas.
The thought that visually impaired children are in some way unable to share or benefit from the theatre is upsetting. There are so many sensory parts to the theatre experience – just because you can’t see shouldn’t mean you can’t enjoy the experience.
The importance of audio description
Theatre performances can be very visual and for visually impaired children that can undoubtedly feel frustrating. Imagine not understanding the visual prompts or why a certain facial expression is causing a certain reaction in the crowd. But there are simple and effective ways to address this to ensure that people are fully included in the theatre experience such as audio-described performances for example.
Smiles all round
Every family I spoke to talked about the joy their child felt being able to attend a theatre performance that was accessible to them. It was lovely for the whole family to be able to take part in an activity together. So often projects can focus only on the visually impaired child and activities can be segregated from the wider family unit. The atmosphere was one of fun, learning and letting go of inhibitions to truly embrace the performance, plot and atmosphere. I felt very privileged to be involved.
Why this project matters
Projects like these ensure that visually impaired children know they are valued and important, that their experiences in life and their childhoods matter. I can’t think of a more worthy donation than one that ensures some of the most disadvantaged young people feel a part of this great city so many of us call home.
To help put more big smiles on little faces this Christmas, please do consider making a donation to the Vision Foundation’s Christmas appeal: