Auckland theatres provide accessible services for people with disabilities

Asia-Pacific, August 17 2011

Auckland, NZ: Through technology and some more traditional techniques, the world of live theatre is opening up to a whole new audience.

The Edge, who run the Aotea Centre, Auckland Town Hall, The Civic and Aotea Square, are making it possible for blind  and deaf people, to enjoy live performances through the Signal programme.

After the programme’s launch in June, Calendar Girls will be the third show to have sign language-interpreted and audio-described performances, with both The Brothers Size and Miss Saigon using the programme.

There is a performance for both the visually impaired and hearing impaired communities.

During the show for blind people, a sign language interpreter stands at the side of the stage so people can watch the performance and the signing at the same time.

The audio described performance involves people wearing headsets – similar to those used in conferences for translation – and a trained audio describer sits at the back of the theatre describing the non-verbal aspects of the performance, including introductory notes before the performance describing the set, costumes and characters.

More than 24,000 New Zealanders use sign language and 11,500 people are either blind people.

Signal producer Bronwyn Bent says the programme has had positive feedback from both communities.

“We had quite a few people come along who had never been to a performance before.  It’s really exciting that we are making it possible for people who want to come along to be able to.”

But she says since the programme is new, there have been a few things crop up they hadn’t thought of.

“The big thing for us is realising a lot of these people haven’t been to live performance before and then it becomes a lot more about educating people about performance.

“We can’t just assume they are excited about coming to the show because if you’ve never been, you might be more nervous.”

She says things like what to wear to the theatre and the need to pre-purchase tickets are common questions from new audience members.

And Bent says there has been a lot of interest from other audience members during the shows.

“Firstly people are quite curious.  Because audio description is not very common at all, a lot of people wonder “what’s that, why do they have headsets?”  And a lot of people in the signed performances get caught up in watching the signers as well – so it’s a whole audience gets into it.”

The Sign language performance of Calendar Girls was held on Sunday and the audio described performance will be on Saturday August 20, 2pm at the Civic Theatre.

Bookings for Signal are available on 09 357 3354 or

Tickets are $37 – $57 and half price companion tickets available if required.


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