Calgary's Good Host Program Helps Make Local Theatre More Inclusive and Accessible
The program can provide live audio descriptions, pre-show touch tours, American Sign Language interpretation and relaxed performances.
A pilot ASL Interpreted performance from last spring.
Photograph supplied by Inside Out Theatre
Often, people with disabilities aren’t able to fully engage with the arts in the same way as the able-bodied, but Calgary’s Good Host Program is hoping to change that. The program — the first of its kind in Canada — collaborates with theatre companies of all sizes to improve inclusion and accessibility for Calgary’s disabled community.
Col Cseke, artistic director at Good Host’s partner company Inside Out Theatre, coordinates the program. Cseke describes the Good Host Program as a warm welcome into theatre spaces, with each space anticipating the needs of different communities. “The people in these communities have never been invited to come see theatre, or even been marketed to,” he says. “Every step we take, we’re working with the community we’re trying to reach.”
The program can provide things such as American Sign Language interpretation for the hard of hearing and performances where audience members are welcome to move around or engage in other behaviours that might be seen as disruptive in order to enjoy the show. “We’ll have a chill-out zone in the lobby for people with autism or sensory processing concerns,” Cseke says. “If the world of the play is a little too intense, they can come and chill out for a while. The biggest thing is that all those really strict theatre-going rules get relaxed for a bit.”
Kathy Austin, a visually impaired theatregoer, was hired to help develop the program. Austin has previously used telescopes to see during performances, but says the tactile tours — a chance to touch the set and costumes prior to the show — allows blind people to share the experience seeing people have. “Generally my theatre experiences are very good, but with touch it makes it better and starts to level out the field,” Austin says.
Austin and other visually impaired patrons also benefit from radio-connected headphones where an actor gives a live audio description throughout the play. “The audio description we write describes all of the visual elements of the play,” Cseke says. “The performance of these descriptions will match the intensity, mood or tone of the scene ... hopefully building in listeners’ imaginations what the sighted audience sees.”
Upcoming accessible performances
The Wizard of Oz presented by Storybook Theatre
Saturday, December 16, 2 p.m.
Beddington Theatre Arts Centre, 375 Bermuda Dr. N.W., storybooktheatre.org
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Sunday, December 17, 2 p.m.
Vertigo Studio Theatre, 115 9 Ave. S.E., storybooktheatre.org
For more information and a list of upcoming accessible performances around Calgary, visit insideouttheatre.com/good-host