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.
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.
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