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'A Token Effort Has Been Made To Include The Abled As Well'

Susan Williams stands in a rainbow coloured t-shirt against a beige wall, with yellow stripes on the ground. Photo: Aimee Sullivan.
Susan Williams, wearing goggles and a rainbow coloured T-shirt, reaches towards the camera. Photo: Aimee Sullivan.
“Braille programmes will be provided. If you want a sighted one, you’ll need to ask." Susan Williams' new show has the potential to become the baseline for accessibility.

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I sat down and spoke to Wellington-based creative, Susan Williams (they/them) to talk about their new show Illegally Blind.  I’ve known Susan from the theatre scene for a while now, in fact, I did my first show with them! 

Susan lost their sight not long after this performance and has continued to be a delight in the creative scene. 

Illegally Blind is their first solo show, and it’s not inspo porn. It’s a theatre show, made by a creator, who just happens to be blind, along with a whole heap of other things that make up who Susan is. 

But due to their lived experience, they are a champion for access needs being met. 

In this not-so-solo solo show, Susan just wants to get stuff done. Instead, they end up on an epic quest, battling sock-puppets, ableist audio-describers, a pile of laundry, and people who don’t provide digital copies of important documents.

Drawing on twenty years of theatre and performance skills, Susan brings their real-life experiences to the stage. The result is a whimsical romp through the world of identity and shattered expectations, mixing traditional theatre with stand-up comedy, poetry, improvisation, and more silly voices than you can shake an eel at.

How’s the show going?

“Yeah, good. Exciting, scary, everything. All of the above. We're busy doing things backwards cause it's devised. We made this fast and then we wrote a script - now I'm trying to get the script into my brain.

“This is the first time that I’m playing a blind character. Which is weird. Oh, I mean character, a version of myself.

“The narrative is really simple. I go to the doctor's office and try to get a diagnosis and go on a journey. There’s lots of sock puppets and nerdy easter eggs. We're also  building in a metric shit ton of accessibility.”

Touch Compass funded the development of the show, and now it’s part of BATS Theatre’s Co-Pro show model. Illegally Blind  has the following for every performance:

  • Inbuilt audio description and captions

  • Relaxed performances

  • Informal seating with beanbags, blankets, armless chairs and wheelchair space

  • Comforting and stimmy snacks, tea and (Covid permitting) stim toys

“It's for everyone, disabled people and able people alike.”

I’ve seen a lot of theatre shows over the last few years, probably over 200. Never have I seen a show with such a drive to support so many access needs.

Illegally Blind has the potential to pave a way forward for theatre and hopefully it could be the baseline for everything.

How do all of these elements work together? 

Susan Williams, wearing goggles and a rainbow coloured T-shirt, reaches towards the camera. Photo: Aimee Sullivan.

Susan explains so the audio is recorded and I interact with her. The audio describes so everyone in the audience has that and has the description. The audio also describes things that don't actually exist on stage.

“It’s so amazing using the audio description to imagine that what’s there is other things. So some like, it’s just a plain sock but like the description will describe each different stock is different with hair glasses and everything.

“The idea is that it'd be more accessible - for everyone. We do have subtitles, so from that, that's the audio description and the subtitles. The other thing is that your description is subtitled and the subtitles are from the audio.

“So, fingers crossed we’ll have some toys that are able to be played with. But we'll see. We're doing relaxed performances. There won't be any surprises, loud, unpleasant noises. And we won't have stage smoke or anything like that at the relaxed performances. Just a sensory-friendly environment.”

Writer/performer Susan Williams, producer Charlie Hann, director Anastasia Matteini-Roberts, and tech guru Emma Maguire are pictured from above lying on a pile of laundry.

What’s something that people should know about the show?

“The other cool thing is the team. Oh, my god! I'm not sure if it's everyone or nearly everyone is either queer or disabled or both. I'm trying to make sure that we employ people that have the experience.“

Illegally Blind runs from 7-11 of December at BATS Theatre. I think it’s important to clarify here, that each of the access needs are tied to every performance. However, the relaxed performances will be on at 6:30pm Wednesday 8 December and 1pm Saturday 11 December. 

The Random Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

 

Written by

Courtney Rose Brown

8 Dec 2021

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