News & Features

Making Theatre Accessible this Christmas


Opera North, along with the five other major arts organisations in Access Leeds Theatre - the first regional collective working together to improve access to theatre for individuals with sensory impairments - is proud to highlight the dazzling selection of accessible festive productions across the city this season.

Access Leeds Theatre, which was set up in 2013, is a partnership between Carriageworks Theatre, City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds Grand Theatre, Northern Ballet, and West Yorkshire Playhouse, as well as Opera North. They have over 200 subscribers to their regular newsletters, available via email or in audio and large-print formats. The newsletters provide a one-stop shop for all access performance across the city, making planning a visit to the theatre much easier.

The success of a regional collective of arts organisations working together in this way was borne out by a recent report from Vocaleyes and Stagetext which showed that, out of the whole of the UK, Yorkshire tops the list in two of the six categories (offering BSL and audio-described performances) and is second in the other four in terms of having the greatest range of accessible performances and welcoming and accessible theatre spaces.

The very real impact on the people who come along is made poignantly clear by their feedback:

It was my first time at the theatre. I never go out, I don’t have any friends. I am deaf and live alone. The evening was very special. I would love to go again – I had never imagined I would go to the theatre – I never knew they did signed performances…

— Attendee at an Opera North performance of Carousel

Opera North's next accessible performance will be an audio-described performance of Puccini's much-loved masterpiece Madama Butterfly on Wednesday 31 January for blind or partically-sighted opera-lovers. They will also be offering audio-described performances on tour.

Audio-described performances include a live description of the visual elements of the production delivered through a discreet headset, and are preceded by a free touch tour giving people the chance to go behind-the-scenes and get up close to the costumes, props and set. Seats for those using the audio-description plus one essential companion are offered at a discounted rate, and audio introductions are sent out a week or so in advance to help people familiarise them with the production before attending the performance. 

Madama Butterfly audio-described performances: 

Leeds Grand Theatre Wednesday 31 January 7.30pm Touch tour 6.15pm
The Lowry, Salford Quays Thursday 8 March 2018 7.30pm Touch tour 6.15pm
Theatre Royal, Nottingham Thursday 15 March 7.30pm Touch tour 6.15pm
Theatre Royal, Newcastle Thursday 22 March  7.30pm Touch tour 6.15pm

When Kiss Me, Kate returns in May, signed, audio-described and captioned performances will all be offered. For more information, visit the Access webpage.

Those keen to find out more about accessible performances across Leeds from all the major arts organisations can sign up for the newsletters at 

Photo Credits:
Peer Support Service visit Opera North: Justin Slee
Behind the scenes with Aspire - Justin Slee

Audio-description in action: Opera North

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