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"Wicked" Good Time

Date: Jan 06, 2010


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By Daniel Gillen

Based on my experience at the musical Wicked, audio description may help increase the visually-impaired community's interest in largely visual forms of entertainment.  This is especially true of musical theatre. The music may be pleasing and agreeable to the ears of one with or without vision, but when there is no dialogue, those without vision can only know what is occurring with some form of audio description. 

When I attended the audio-described performance of Wicked on November 11, 2009, my fellow students at the Lighthouse Music School and I were able to take in nearly as much information (and experience as much enjoyment) as the sighted audience around us.

Compared to the audio description used in movie theatres, the system used at the Wicked performance was reliable in terms of the frequent descriptions of the characters' movements on stage, and each audio description receiver was ergonomic for the person using it.  When I experienced audio description in movie theatres, the receivers did not always work, the narration was constantly being drowned out by the sound from the movie, and the descriptions were not reliable.  (Both the movie theatre system and the one used at the performance of Wicked, however, were almost equally user friendly.) 

I was most pleased with the description that preceded the performance of Wicked. The interpretation of how the stage and set were arranged gave a clear idea of how the characters were going to move as the show progressed.  Overall, the descriptions were well thought out, and the techniques could probably be applied to other musicals and plays.

As a person who is totally blind, I have unsurprisingly been to few Broadway shows.  I was never that interested in theatre, so I would only attend performances on school trips or when I had specifically been invited.  My first-ever Broadway theatre experience occurred in the fifth grade, on a class trip to Fiddler on the Roof.  I was able to enjoy the music, though I could never make out the actual storyline.  Audio description helped me understand Wicked, however, as did reading a synopsis of the story.  When the audio description came, the events being described made sense according to my preliminary familiarization with the plot.

All in all, the experience was wonderfully dramatic and awe-inspiring.

Daniel Gillen is a sophmore at the Filomen M. D'Agostino Greenberg Music School at Lighthouse International.