Following the introduction of braille and large-print programs this season, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is piloting a new Audio Description Program at the 7 p.m. Dec. 14, performance of The Nutcracker to help patrons with vision impairments visualize the choreography, set design and costumes set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score.
Beyond listening to live verbal descriptions during the production, patrons can get a full sensory experience by attending a pre-performance “Touch Tour” at 5:45 p.m. on Dec. 14, in the Benedum Center’s South Lounge. Assisted by a costumed dancer, attendees will have the opportunity to touch costume samples, such as the Sugarplum Fairy tutu’s stiff netting and intricate embellishment, a textured tactile map of the stage set layout and the poses of signature choreography, such as the carriage of the hands in the Snow Scene. Following the performance, PBT Education Director Alyssa Herzog Melby, who will audio describe the production, will host a feedback session with attendees to evaluate PBT’s first audio-described production.
“Although Pittsburgh already offers well-established audio description programs for opera and theatre, we believe this will be the first program in the Pittsburgh arts community that is specifically tailored to dance,” Melby said. “The thing about describing for dance which makes it so challenging–and rewarding–is that the describer can’t rely on dialogue or lyrics to help tell the story. The describer becomes a storyteller, painting a vivid mental picture for patrons of all the movement intricacies that are happening onstage.”
In preparation for the pilot program, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust co-hosted an Audio Description for Dance training workshop at the PBT Studios led by expert dance describer Ermyn King of the Washington, D.C. area.
The training – which included representatives from the Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Opera and City Theatre — was designed for describers with previous audio description training and experience. Using live dance demonstrations, the course covered best practices and dance description fundamentals, including Laban Movement Analysis, which uses concepts such as body, energy, space and time to characterize choreography. Many of the describers in attendance volunteer for other Pittsburgh arts organizations and now have the skills necessary to describe for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre productions and other dance events in the city.
The audio description will stream live through the Benedum Center’s assistive listening devices, which ushers are trained to offer and explain to patrons. The headsets for the audio-described performance are available on a first-come, first-served basis at a kiosk in the Benedum Center lower lobby in the right hallway. Upon arrival, patrons should see an usher for more assistance. Patrons will be asked for an ID in order to borrow a headset.