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What's New on the Rialto Theater - An Equal Opportunity Obsession

By Rosalyn Butt

When you are blind from birth, and you profess to sighted friends and acquaintances a love of the theater, especially musicals, you can expect plenty of questions. "Don't you miss a lot, not being able to see the dancing, the scenery, the lights, the costumes?" "How did you get involved, and what do you appreciate most?" "Does your guide dog attend the theater, and what's that like?" On and on the questions go. I hope that in this column I provide people with some answers.

How did I get involved? You can probably blame, or better yet thank my Dad. He loves two pertinent things: show tune recordings and electronic equipment. I can't remember there not being show music at our house. In fact, a story is told by my parents about my very early days. I used to cry incessantly every evening and the only thing that would stop me was the sound of Gene Kelly's voice singing "Our Love Is Here to Stay." In elementary school Dad had us listening to The Sound Of Music, Flower Drum Song, and the movie sound track of The King And I. At this time I was taken to my first plays; I think Peter Pan was among the earliest. I have vague memories of these plays being in an old building, and I remember the Phoenix Little Theater being mentioned a lot. I remember being taken backstage and being shown Peter Pan's costumes and some of the props. Mom or Dad would quietly fill me in on any action that took place when the actors grew silent. I loved the dialogue, the music, the actors' interesting voices. As more professional theater came to Phoenix, my experience grew.

I love well-written dialogue, a great score, and performers who can bring across a character and his or her emotions without my having to see them. The voice can communicate volumes. Perhaps this explains how I was attracted to a performer whose work would bring a lifetime of inspiration. Explaining how I developed a relationship with the work of Anthony Newley would need another whole column; I will say here that Newley's musicals really suited me. I liked his songs and still do. He could bring across a character's emotions in such great detail that it never occurred to me to ask for any visual details from people who saw his work on Broadway until years after I heard the songs. If he was happy, you really knew it immediately. If he was sad, you caught on instantly, and all of that came through his voice.

You take your guide dog to the theater? Yes, where there is room for her to lie quietly. Razzle, my yellow Labrador guide, is very helpful, especially with taking me up and down the steps some theaters have. There have been a couple of shows I didn't have her attend, specifically Phantom Of The Opera, and Titanic. I didn't know how she would react to the loud sounds in them.

The only time I had trouble was at a local production. Yucca, my first guide dog, was upset by a sudden, overly loud noise. She was elderly, and nearing retirement; I think her hearing had changed. As a personal preference, I have taught my guide dogs to sit to be stroked, if somebody asks to pet the dog, and I give permission. They learn the phrase, "sit to be stroked," and are allowed to be petted before the show, or at intermission. Some guide dog handlers don't allow this kind of interaction at all, so it's best to ask.

Recently Dad, Razzle, and I started enjoying a new theatrical experience -- the opera. Something new is heightening my enjoyment: Braille programs and descriptive audio, where descriptions are given by a professional describer, and I listen through earphones. It doesn't interfere with what goes on on stage whatsoever. Now, I don't miss anything.

Why am I telling you all this? I do have a not-so-hidden agenda. I want you to consider introducing any people with disabilities, especially young ones, you may know to the theater. Encourage them to be bitten by the theater-going bug. I promise you that you will be glad you did it.

-- Rosalyn


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