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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Local theater adds access to stage mix
Part of patron outreach initiative
Published Sunday, May 19, 2019 9:39 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Sweet Honey in the Rock's Charlotte performance was accompanied by a sign language interpreter, part of a growing outreach to patrons to improve their experience.

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Access in theater is evolving.

From Broadway to Belk Theater, different theatergoers have different needs. Whether that means using the GalaPro app for shows like “Dear Evan Hansen” or a sign language interpreter perform with iconic music group Sweet Honey in the Rock, it’s about engaging more people in the experience.  

Traditional methods remain in place, however. Some performances offer an elevated traditional experience. For instance, Sweet Honey in the Rock performed at McGlohon Theater during Charlotte SHOUT earlier this month, with sign language interpreter Barbara Hunt on stage, rather than off to the side.

“It offers a continued commitment and opportunity to be sensitive, receptive and responsive to the needs of everyone,” said Sweet Honey in the Rock vocalist Aisha Kahlil. “In a theater, you are going to have ramps for people who cannot walk stairs, or who are in wheelchairs. You are going to have accessibility for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to come and enjoy the Sweet Honey in the Rock concert. They may not be able to hear the music quite as well, but they are going to have someone who is right with us and not tucked away in a little cat box on the side, but who is right with us as a part of the group signing, so they can understand what the lyrics are that we are singing.”

However, contemporary methods are also being implemented at Charlotte shows.

“That access issue is a high priority,” Blumenthal Performing Arts President Tom Gabbard said. “We have introduced something that goes even further, and it is something that Broadway business has embraced, and is now becoming available across the country—it’s a piece of technology called GalaPro.”

“Dear Evan Hansen’s” run in March at Belk Theater featured the app, which delivers closed caption texts to theatergoers.

“It has the capability of delivering what is called audio description,” Gabbard said. “People who are blind, or have some sort of visual impairment, the app providers a describer who describes what is there. We are beginning to implement that.”

As Broadway implements the technology, Charlotte will eventually reap the rewards.

“That is a whole new level of access which will be available to people in any seat in the theater,” Gabbard said. “We are planning to do it for any show that has that capability.”

The script must be written in text format to utilize the app.

“Nearly every Broadway show has managed to do that,” Gabbard said. “Now it is filtering out to us on the road. The next show we are looking to offer that is ‘Cats’ [Aug. 13-18].”


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