Guest blog by Charmaine Ashpole.
It has taken me some time to put my thoughts into text because I, like many parents, have had to juggle the complexities of family life, with two beautiful young persons at home, often proclaiming ‘boredom’ over the summer holidays. Followed by the complexities and metaphorical ‘plate-spinning,’ of getting the two aforementioned young people back into the ‘back to school’ routine, once the dizzy heights of a very hot summer break was over. And now we find ourselves in the October half-term break. I’d like to wish all parents of young people the very best in keeping them entertained and educated throughout the coming week, and gently beckon you in the Polka Theatre’s direction!
I should tell you, at this point, that I am ‘registered blind’. This not only adds to the complexities of parenthood, it also enriches it. As my children learn to accommodate my disability, and its impact on the whole family, they acquire resilience, kindness and strength.
But what’s even more special to me is them seeing what I can achieve with a little sighted assistance, and a lot of empathy and understanding from organisations and venues, like Polka Theatre. Places like Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre (Polka) understand these difficulties that people can have in attending and accessing life, and put accessibility and assistance in place to make their venues, products, performances and services available to as many people as possible, and to welcome them wholeheartedly! Polka is just such a welcoming, accessible venue.
Levelling the playing field with a Polka pre-show touch tour
The theatre is very family oriented, and blind and partially sighted people can attend audio-described performances, with a touch tour before the actual performance commences. My family, comprising partner, Simon, and two young daughters, Alexandra, who was then aged 9, and Sofia, aged 7, and I attended the pre-show touch tour along with Ellen, Polka’s Trusts Manager. This was hosted by the show’s audio describer, Miranda. She was fabulous talking us all through the stage set and describing and allowing us to touch props, explaining how things worked in terms of staging the performance, and generally answering any questions we had about the show.
This was incredibly enjoyable and as someone who has only a residual little bit of eyesight, allowed my imagination to go into overdrive ahead of the show, grounding myself in the performance and theatrical environment. This both made me feel comfortable in my surroundings and gave me an appreciation of the layout and aesthetics of the show, which as a partially blind person, I wouldn’t otherwise have had. It made me feel fully included and levelled the playing field so that I started the show on the same footing as my sighted family members.
It also helps the production and other friends and family members that attend audio described performances and touch tours with me, the extent of what I can’t see. Which in turn helps them to understand what I potentially miss out on, so that they can then describe fully purely visual phenomena in life that I would otherwise miss out on. It’s a really good enabler for understanding what visually impaired people have to deal with and how this can adversely affect their lives if relatively simple adaptations are not made.
The Pirate, the Princess and the Platypus is beautiful story about how each of us need to be allowed to be our best selves. Very relevant to conversations about equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility. All of us should be enabled by our environments and the people around us to be ourselves, and not only to survive but absolutely to THRIVE! Be we a pirate, princess, platypus or a visually impaired mum! We all have valuable roles to play in life and should be allowed to live our lives in the way that best fits us. In turn we can valuably and vitally contribute to societal conversations of kindness and compassion where we can all feel represented and all be our best selves!
That said, we all enjoyed a fabulous show. The children were totally engrossed throughout. Ellen herself attended shows there as a child and told us about her happy memories. Back then, she felt included, and it started a love for the theatre. It’s an embracing place for all people to go and feel welcome. We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The facilities were all excellent and very accessible, and the girls relished the snacks and ice creams on offer in the cafe and during the show. There is also an onsite play area and sensory garden which can all be accessed for free throughout the week (expanding Polka’s inclusivity to young families in the area).
Thank you Polka for a wonderful afternoon. We’ll be back soon, and hope that many other families get to experience the wonders that you have to offer… Keep on keeping on!
Check out What’s On at Polka Theatre.
Inclusive theatre, proudly supported by Vision Foundation
Audio description is an accepted part of theatre for adults but isn’t common in children’s theatre. With our funding Polka Theatre is able to grow the number of audio described performances on offer to visually impaired children and their families. Their overarching aim with audience development is to make families feel comfortable and confident enough to visit Polka Theatre independently of their school or community group.