July 17, 2023
Dear listeners and readers,
Thank you for joining us for the fourth episode of The Impossible is Only the Untried : a Prologue Podcast with Mandy E. MacLean.
In this episode, we hear about the students’ year-end production of That ONE Drama Class – and the discoveries made during its creation and performance. We also hear about what the team is excited to explore next semester.
Listen to the episode on Buzzsprout or click the audio player below.
(student voices) WRMS. W. Ross Macdonald. W. Ross Macdonald School. WRMS. W. Ross Macdonald School. W Ross.
The Impossible. The Impossible.
The Impossible is Only the Untried.
(Mandy’s voice) You’re listening to The Impossible is Only the Untried – a Prologue Performing Arts podcast that shares findings that are being discovered and questions that are being asked when we think about how to make performing arts more accessible to youth from the Low Vision and Blind community. And a big thank you to our partners at the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind as we continue working with their students to help us navigate these questions.
My name is Mandy E. MacLean, I’m the Project Coordinator of this collaboration and I’ve been joining the W. Ross drama class all semester, along with a team of additional professionals from the arts community, to explore how youth audiences and members with Low Vision and Blindness experience performing arts, and to think about how we can incorporate these findings from the initial concept of a production so that Low Vision audience members can engage with the production alongside sighted audience members – without the use of any formal accommodation.
Throughout the past 6 months of being in the classroom with these absolutely amazing drama students, we’ve had some really interesting findings that are really just scratching the surface of where this research can continue. I’ve outlined some of the more interesting findings we’ve had, which have ultimately created more questions that we’re excited to explore this fall, and we hope you will all be thinking about this as you engage and create theatre this summer.
This semester, the drama teacher and the students created a play, and they called it “That One Drama Class” and throughout this process a few discoveries came up and even more questions were asked. Here are some of our findings.
The drama class had 4 fully blind students within it, and 3 out of the 4 students told us that they could experience huge contrasts of light. And when we had talkback sessions with the students that were in the audience – they also echoed this finding. Does that mean moving from examples of high contrast; like a spotlight and a black, rather than using more gradient lighting? Does that mean coloured lighting needs to focus on primary colours? How do we incorporate something like that in theatre?
For this production the students inherited superpowers after the collapse of their school’s theatre. A question we had was how a visually impaired person associate sound with action – or give sound meaning? So we created a sound for each of their superpowers, and in the sound world this is called “a sting”. Did audience members associate that sound with their superpower? Does the repetition of the sound need to be described every time it’s done or does the sound take on its own cue once it’s associated the first time? How does the dramaturgy of that moment need to change – so that the sound is more clearly associated with the superpower?
In thinking about dramaturgy, we embedded very direct audio description into the script, but how do we make it flow more so it’s not a direct action of explaining? So instead of one of the characters saying “Amal walked up the stairs” can we incorporate it more fully? Uh something like… “Hey Amal come on up the stairs, this is where the drama class is” and then maybe we hear their footsteps – Another question is how much audio description embedding is too much? How much is not enough?
Also, we were so grateful to the school to allow us to speak to some of the audience members about their experience as we tested some of these initial concepts, and some of the feedback illuminated that sound localization and movement of sound were very positive and necessary. A lot of students told us “ We want it to happen more!” One particular student gave us some really great feedback on sound levels – and that what we thought was clear and helped the story, at some moments created a huge sense of unease – and this wasn’t our intention. So this led us to realize the way that sound is distilled into meaning and storytelling points is a very different process for these students. So the process of levels needs to be really considered in a different way. And we’re going to keep this in mind as we explore next semester.
In the fall semester, we’re excited to implement some of these ideas and questions that came up in a more deliberate way, and we’re lucky to have our artistic team back again to continue exploring these findings and provide us with even more questions.
I’ve been thinking about a shift of center because isn’t a lot of live performances centred in the visual? So maybe creating time to integrate accessibility (and all of these lived experiences) into performance elements will change our art, and help include all audiences. And by taking the time to explore and listen, more young people of every identity will want to watch & make art.
Access takes time. And time makes good art.
And we are so excited to continue our time at W. Ross in September. I encourage all of you to come up with your own questions and theories, and if you are interested in exploring more, please reach out to Prologue to continue this conversation.
Join us this fall as we embark on Phase Two of our project and learn more, visit www.prologue.org or on social media at @prologuearts!
I am going to leave you for the summer with the trailer of the students at W. Ross that they created for their production of “That One Drama Class” and remember, the Impossible is Only the Untried.
(Mandy’s voice) Did you hear about that one drama class?
(student voices) I remember what happened that day in that one drama class…
I still can’t believe it…
That one drama class…
That drama class was literally amazing
It was pretty fun…
It was something else…
Yeah, I remember that one drama class…everything went crazy!
(many student’s voices at once)
(single student voice) Stop it!