Steppenwolf Showcases ROOMMATE for the Visually Impaired
It is so beyond an act of charity. It’s more than a small bandage for the accessibility issues of today. Steppenwolf Theatre has made a giant step forward in making Chicago theatre an enjoyable experience for as many people as possible through its “Touch Tours” and audio description performances…as a standard practice! The performance of THE ROOMMATE, written by Jen Silverman and directed by Phylicia Rashad exhibits this genuine mission which the theatre has taken upon itself.
Director of Audience Experience Evan Hatfield and his staff (among them are Aaron Aptaker, Jack Miggins and a host of volunteer guides) work regularly with individuals and groups of people who require extra assistance in order to enjoy fully the benefits of Steppenwolf’s treasured talent. From playbills in braille, large print, audio CD formats and digital audio files to the “getting more renowned” Touch Tours and audio descriptive performances, people with visual impairments, from the legally blind to those with no physical vision at all, can enjoy a fuller experience of several plays in Steppenwolf’s stunning repertoire.
This writer had the privilege of accompanying Robert Kingett, Chicago-based freelance journalist and author (who happens to be totally blind), to Steppenwolf for the Touch Tour and performance of THE ROOMMATE. It was heartening to be in the midst of the two dozen plus people with visual impairments in the Touch Tour, walking up on stage, feeling the props and experiencing the set up close from my sighted perspective as well as in a small way witnessing everyone else’s seeing of the props and set in a different way.
Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble Adds to Touch Tours Too
The most-moving part of the pre-performance experience was the Q&A with the two cast members, Ora Jones and Sandra Marquez, both Steppenwolf Theatre Company Ensemble Members. Their sensitivity to their small audience’s needs and the actors’ ever-so-comfortable conversation describing themselves and their characters in visual terms was quite moving. It’s heartening to see what is being done to bring into the world of Art those who cannot see in the physical sense of the word.
During the performance (to a full house, by the way) the plethora of audio-assisting devices was apparent and all of the audience members who needed the aids were heard making the same reactions to the play’s action as those who could physically see…AT THE SAME TIME. It is a gift of a people’s goodness that this service is growing as a standard practice. With time, with getting the word out, with growing awareness, Steppenwolf’s practice of the Touch Tour and audio description of performances will become part of the general offerings of every theatre space in the city.
Already, through the efforts of the Chicago theatre community (from small store front spaces to the Lyric Opera) and the Chicago Cultural Access Constortium access to the stage for the visually impaired is a reality. The CCAC is a treasure for resources, networking and education on the ongoing needs of the community. For more information on the consortium, check out their website http://chicagoculturalaccess.org/
At this time, Steppenwolf offers their plays with the Touch Tours and audio description once during a show’s run. Those wishing to get more information about the theatre’s performances for the visually-impaired can access Steppenwolf’s “Tickets & Events” page of their website.
All photos by Joe Rulli, unless otherwise indicated.
Joseph Anthony Rulli is a transplanted Hoosier, living in Chicago since the fall of 2006. A 1987 graduate of the University of Notre Dame (BA, History) and a 1992 graduate of St. Meinrad School of Theology (MDiv) he taught Social Studies, Religion, Philosophy and History at the high school level. He began writing as a career upon his arrival to his second city and has had two short stories published, a stage play performed, an electronic tour book published online and The Chicago Haymarket Affair (History Press/Arcadia Publishing, 2016) his first print book.