Sunday 17 February 2019

Phantom Of The Opera

Hello Everyone!

Last week I went to see Phantom Of the Opera with a group of visually impaired people at Her Majesty's Theater in London. A friend of mine, told me about this Facebook group of  visually impaired people who organise theater trips around the UK. This was my first time meeting some of the members of the group (I only knew 1 person), but it was a great day out. Today's blog post is about this day out. Along with my experience of using audio description for the first time at the theater. 

The Touch Tour:
Before we got to the theater, we all agreed to meet at the station and walk to there. Some members of the group had already arrived, others were delayed because of their trains. Which is why the person in the group that knew the way did two trips to the theater and station. She used sighted guide to help two people that had no vision. It's a technique where the visually impaired person holds your arm and walks a few steps behind you as you lead them. I didn't need guiding because I had my cane. So both I and another girl who had a guide dog followed them. Another person in our group was meeting us at the theater. Once we all arrived and got our tickets, we were met by some members of staff who took us to another entrance and guided us through the seats, straight to the stage where the touch tour begins. 

If you're wondering what I mean by a "touch tour", it's when the production team and people behind the scenes of a play or musical give people a tour of the stage. You get to see and touch some of the props, costumes and learn how things are done during a show. Aside from Phantom, I've also been to see Mary Poppins which was organised the council for young VIPs in the borough I lived in at the time. From what I've heard different production s have different ways of doing these tours. For Phantom we were shown all the props they keep on the stage before a show. I got to see and feel the amount of detail there was on the giant chandelier, touch the music box, the decapitated head, and see the lights on the stage. I also got to hold the manican of  Christine the Phantom built and throws across the stage in one scene. It's surprisingly heavy!  

We were then taken behind the stage, which is a lot larger than you'd think. Some of the equipment is even stored by hanging them from the ceiling! Here we all split into different groups, I was lucky enough to be given a tour by the stage manager with another member of our group. He showed us a dress which is made of various materials, beads and patterns (kind of like Asian dresses and is just as heavy, if not more), the boat which is decorated with lots of pillows, the organ with candles, the grave, Christine's dressing room with the large mirror and the giant elephant that's only on stage for 1 minute! It was huge, we could only feel the legs, body, mouth and tounge. It was too tall for us to feel the trunk and whole head. We were even shown the Phantom's throne and mask, which they let people (like myself) try on and sit in respectively. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take any pictures, but I was told that the mask suited me perfectly. 

Watching The Musical With Audio Description:
After the tour we were taken to our seats and given the audio description headset, provided by Vocal Eyes. One of the ushers came to our seats, explained that if we need anything to just raise our hands and someone will come. Along with letting us know what drinks and snacks there were and how much they cost. We have our orders, cash and contactless cards, they then gave us our food, cards and change either by hand, in a cup or plastic bag.  Below are images of the headset and my snacks.
Image Description: black audio description headset provided by Vocal Eyes

Image Description: picture of my cane, water in a plastic cup, purple container of Yorkshire sweet and salty popcorn

I also took a quick picture of the stage where all the props were covered up before the show started. Once the play started, I turned the volume wheel to turn it ob on (that's the only button it had). It's located on the bottom right of the long part of the headset, that goes below your chin.  Throughout the shoe, the audio description described what people were doing, what was happening on the screen, changes in scene. One of my favourite parts that were well described were the scene where the Chandellier rises above the audience to tell the story from the past, the way it falls in a later scene, a fire, characters getting  killed and when the Phantom kidnaps Christine during her performance. I knew that at the theater the audio description is live, but I didn't know that after the break they switched narrators. As for Phantom as a whole, I didn't know anything about the show beforehand but I really enjoyed it. I loved the costumes, the acting and though I couldn't follow the lyrics of the songs well (it was my first time watching a musical with Opera like singing) I thought it was an excellent performance. The story itself is great, it's about a singer Christine who meets her "Angel of Music" (the Phantom) who is in love with her, tries to make her love him, leave the man she loves, be the star of the show. Christine fears him, tries saving her childhood friend, haunted by the Phantom's power, but shows him kindness when no one else ever has. It"s quite an interesting tale, the way it's done is different. To me there were lots of surprises for the audience and it leaves you wanting a part 2.

Image Description: picture of the stage with the props covered in a white cloth with the words "Phantom" and a stone archway around it 

For those of you wondering about how the guide dog coped sitting in those theater seats with that limited leg room. It didn't. Guide dogs are taken to a room before the show where they are looked after, fed, kept hydrated and even get to go out for some fresh air.

Dinner At Prime Burgers:
After the show we went to Euston Station and had dinner at Prime Burgers. Getting there was quite the truck because only guide dogs that are trained in London are taught how to use escalators. So my friend with the guide dog needed to ask the staff at the station to turn it off. They wouldn't because it's rush hour, so another member of our group had to carry the dog down the escalator. This is quite inconvenient. Why are only dogs trained in London taught how to use as escalators? Also guiding two people through the busy streets of central London when it's getting darker is a challenge in itself. But I think I did okay. We decided to eat at Euston because it would be easier for people to get home after. We chose Prime Burgers because it was the least crowded place to eat in the station. I took pictures of the menu which was on screen above the counter and asked if the meat was halal. Thankfully the chicken is. I went for the classic chicken burger meal deal with regular chips and an orange juice. The burger was nice, they could've added more seasoning but it'll do when you're huntry af. As for the chips they weren't anything special, just meh.  We spent a lot of time talking about past outings, spilling the tea on things most people in the group knew each other from and having a good time.

Image Description: my classic chicken burger, chips and orange juice

All in all I had a great day out. If you live in England and want to go to plays or musicals with audio description the Theater Crew is a great group to join. I think I made some new friends through the experience as well. That's all I've got for this post. I hope you enjoyed it.