Lighthouse Theatre ramps up accessibility, inclusion

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After a successful pilot last year, Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover is incorporating a relaxed performance into each of their five productions this season.

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“The goal is that, by the end of this (Ontario Trillium Foundation) grant, there will be embedded into the culture and seasons at Lighthouse, relaxed performances,” said Jaymieson O’Neill, the theatre’s relaxed performances coordinator. “We want to see what kind of inclusion principles are going to broaden our community base that’s coming and visiting Lighthouse.”

Relaxed performances include adjusting theatre lighting so a patron can see if they need to leave their seat during a performance; adjusting sound so sound effects are not overly jarring or shocking; and additional accessible seating for individuals who use a mobility aid or device.

O’Neill explained that when ordering tickets, they will appear staggered.

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“Every seat is actually two seats,” she noted. “Everyone has personal space around their group. There’s the comfort of not being shoulder to shoulder with someone else.”

The cast and crew are introduced at the start of the show so that patrons will know who is on stage, and a limited number of hearing devices (headsets) can be reserved to increase the sound of the show.

The theatre’s website now includes guides to accessible seating, parking, a visual guide to all areas and features of the theatre to help those with anxiety, and a storyboard for each production outlining the cast, the set, and what a patron can expect to see.

“We have a comfort zone in the back corner of the (adjacent) Long Bar, so if someone needed a bit of a break or a moment to step away from the theatre performance, they can still hear the show going on,” O’Neill said. “We’re really taking the baseline principles of physical accessibility, social inclusion, and environmental accessibility… to set up different modifications or additions to the theatre so that more folks who haven’t been able to participate in theatre are able to come.

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“Our overall goal is that we want our relaxed performances to be for everyone in the community.”

The first relaxed performance this season was Friday, June 2 of Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River. The next is June 23, featuring On the Air.

O’Neill said one patron – who had visited in the past – found the experience a refreshing take on theatre, felt comfortable with the space she needed, and staff that were supportive.

“The dream is that in years to come, some of those really cool theatre experiences, like having an interpreter on stage, are on our wish list,” she noted. “We don’t want this to be where it ends, but to try things out and give our community experiences they maybe haven’t had in the past.”

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