The Hearing Care Centre's Melanie Ashton spoke to the New Wolsey Theatre about the steps they have taken to make the theatre accessible for those with hearing loss.
For someone with hearing loss, normal social activities such as going to the theatre can be incredibly daunting. It is such a relief when theatres offer solutions to those who may need a little extra hearing help, keeping everyone included.
Ipswich’s very own New Wolsey Theatre has made a huge effort to do exactly this. Rey Dosaj is the Relationship Officer and she told us more...
How do you make your performances more accessible for those with hearing loss?
Ensuring we make our shows and venues accessible is something we are extremely dedicated to. We offer audio enhancement which some people with hearing loss might find supportive, as well as captioning, where subtitles appear on boxes above or alongside the set, and British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted performances, where a signer either stands at the side of the stage or is integrated in the show.
In the past staff have also taken part in a deaf awareness training course by The Hearing Care Centre and have completed further training to enable them to use basic sign language to be able to support a customer with booking tickets if needed.
What motivated you to include this as part of your programme?
Access was always part of our business since we reopened in 2001 however our journey took a different path when we starting co-producing shows with D/deaf and disabled actors. This enabled our audiences to also see people they may identify with on the stage and that theatre can be inclusive for all. Theatre is about sharing and telling stories and people with hearing loss also have stories to tell and see so we wanted to ensure that theatre was accessible for all.
Our community outreach work is to share with people the work we do and how people who may have access requirements can still access the theatre. The number of people living with hearing loss is growing year on year and it’s important that people who visited the theatre prior to their hearing loss, can still enjoy the things they used to. Equally the outreach work is to also share with audiences, who may not be familiar with the theatre, that it is accessible for them to be able to attend.
We were also really impressed with other ways in which you make theatre accessible for all, including those with dementia and mental health conditions. Could you describe how you do this?
We offer Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances for people that might find a standard performance quite unsettling and difficult. The actors come on before the show starts and introduce themselves so the audience can adjust. Changes are made to sound and lighting too so it isn’t as loud and the audience can see around the auditorium. Audience members also have the option to watch the show on plasma screen in the bar if being in the auditorium becomes overwhelming.
We also offer familiarisation tours for people who may want to visit the theatre prior to coming to see a show so they feel more comfortable when they arrive. This has been a great tool for people living with dementia who may require some additional support with feeling comfortable at the theatre. Our staff are also dementia friends and we are part of The Ipswich Dementia Action Alliance and a dementia friendly venue within the town.
We also offer Audio Description to give the information that a visually impaired, partially sighted or blind person might miss such as a person entering or hand gestures. We offer Touch Tours for people who are visually impaired, partially sighted and blind to meet some of the cast, learn more about the different accents the actors may use to help them differentiate who is who within the play and to also touch and feel the costumes, props and sometimes the set.
What accessible shows do you have coming up?
For a full list of all our upcoming accessible shows, please visit our website by clicking here.