IT’S pantomime season, but not everyone will be cheering on Widow Twankey and Co.
That’s because support for deaf people in theatres can be patchy.
Danny Lane, of Almondbury, is profoundly deaf and has spoken of his experiences to try to make theatre-going a better experience for deaf people.
Danny, who is chairman of Huddersfield Deaf Centre, says at a recent show at the Leeds Grand Theatre the sign language interpreter was 90° in the wrong direction from the stage.
He says other deaf people have been given seats for the visually-impaired and been provided audio descriptions.
“I don’t believe in complaining without suggesting how they can make it better,” Danny says.
“But I don’t want to signpost a lot of deaf people to a signed performance if I don’t feel confident it will be accessible. It’s too hit and miss in theatres.”
Some theatres, such as the LBT, have a loop system, some shows have sign language interpreters with their location chosen by the production company.
Do theatres need to stand up to the production companies? “Yes, they do,” says Danny. “They have to follow the Equalities Act and they need to make that clear to the producers.
“Theatres advertise sound-signed shows so that’s what you expect.
“Theatres need to be accessible from booking the tickets to watching the show, but it can be a nightmare sometimes.”
Last month Danny went to the Leeds Grand Theatre to see a production of Oliver!
“It was the big West End production and we were looking forward to seeing it,” he said. “The sign language interpreter was in a box 90° to the show. It meant having to turn from the stage to the interpreter constantly.
“During the interval all the deaf patrons left, they requested their money back, which was given.
“The sign interpreters are meant to be visible while looking at the stage so you can see everything.
“At the Bradford Alhambra last year for Sister Act the interpreter was visible to me but behind the curtain for one of my friends.”
Danny has contacted the theatres and begun a dialogue.
“They were very apologetic, but it seems we give advice, it works but then it fizzles out.”
Is it quite simple to resolve? “It’s not rocket science,” he added. “It’s a topic which comes up from a lot of deaf people – they would go to the theatre more often if the experience was better.
“I just want to go and enjoy the theatre as much as anyone else, why is it so difficult sometimes?”
Karen O’Neill, LBT general manager, said they were keen to hear views of how they can improve theatre experience for everyone.
Karen said: “During any of our shows deaf people or those hard of hearing can use our improvement tour guide system, which is capable of amplifying the sound via head phones, and we have a hearing loop system which is compatible with existing hearing aids.
“The only difference for our British Sign Language (BSL) shows is in the booking, unfortunately we can’t accept online booking for tickets so we have an email system.
“We don’t have signed shows for every show, some like dance companies don’t need it, but we are doing all we can to increase it.
“The main problem is that we’re not a producing house, but touring companies are recognising more and more they need to improve services for deaf patrons.”
Catherine Callinan, learning officer at Leeds Grand Theatre, said: “We experienced some challenges with our BSL signed performance of Oliver! in November which was due to a miscommunication between key departments in the theatre. We contacted every patron affected by our error to apologise.
“This has not happened before and we are determined it shouldn’t happen again – to this end we are forming a cross-departmental steering group to ensure communications around access are clear and procedures are in place to enable these performances to run smoothly.”
She said access for all was “highly important”. They have a hearing loop for every show with 12 captioned, signed and audio described performances.