Eastern Michigan University’s first ever accessibility crew will take action this winter during the EMU Theatre’s presentation of “Still Life with Iris.” Under the guidance of Elena SV Flys, EMU assistant professor of arts administration, the accessibility crew will help make it possible for patrons with disabilities to enjoy every aspect of the show.
With a Ph.D. in theater accessibility, Flys said she has always had a passion for making shows accessible to those with disabilities. In Dec. 2018 she got to try out her vision for an accessible and sensory friendly performance during the EMU Theatre’s production of “James and the Giant Peach.” Now for the first time ever, the EMU Theatre has an official accessibility crew.
“This is the first semester that we actually have an official crew of accessibility,” Flys said. “So it has become another design area, just as you design costumes or sets, which is pretty exciting.”
Comprised of six students, the accessibility crew is responsible for designing the access services that will be available for three of the six performances of “Still Life with Iris” that will take place in Quirk Theatre in Dec.
One of the access services for blind or low-vision patrons are narrations of what is happening on stage. ASL interpreters are also available for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
For a more hands on experience, patrons have the opportunity to do a tactile tour, which allows them go backstage before the show to meet with cast members, touch costumes and feel parts of the set. The accessibility crew also designs lobby displays, such as a 3D model of the set or sensory boxes to help patrons get a feel for the show in a unique way.
“For 'James and the Giant Peach’ there was a moment in the show where James crawls inside a giant peach,” Frys said. “So for one of the sensory boxes children could insert their hand into the interior of the peach and feel the slime.”
EMU sophomore Gwenyth Deiter will be working on the lobby displays for "Still Life with Iris." She said the displays serve an important purpose for those who are blind or low-vision.
“As someone who is able to see, I am able to see the show. But for them, being able to touch and interact with these lobby displays allows them to see and experience the show in a totally different way,” Deiter said.
For people in the autism spectrum, trigger warnings are given for any significant light, sound and movement changes. Noise-cancelling headphones and light-cancelling glasses are also available. Quiet spaces equipped with a TV screen, coloring books and fidget toys are available for those who need to step outside the theater but still want to follow the performance.
Max Leidlein, a junior at EMU who served as the assistant accessibility director for “James and the Giant Peach,” said offering accessible services opens the door for those who have never been able to attend a show in the past because of a disability.
“The arts in general preaches a lot about inclusivity but that’s something that not everybody gets to experience,” Leidlein said. “We have more steps to take until it’s truly inclusive to everybody but we’re just practicing what the art world preaches about being inclusive and welcoming to everybody.”
The accessible service schedule for "Still Life with Iris” is as follows:
Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. (Accessible performance):
- Audio description
- ASL interpreters
- Open captions
- Tactile tours
- Multi-sensory lobby displays
- Assistive listening devices
- Large print and braille programs
Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. (Sensory-friendly performance):
- Warning trigger for light, sound and movement changes
- Quiet space with coloring books and fidget toys
- Scenic backstage tour
- Online interactive map of Quirk Theatre
- Noise-canceling headphones and light-canceling sunglasses
Dec. 11 at 10 a.m. (Accessible and sensory-friendly school matinee):
- All access services will be available
For more information, contact Elena SV Flys at 734.487.1884 or firstname.lastname@example.org