“Beauty and the Beast” was the latest Broadway show to hit the Civic Center's stage. It was also one of the first to demonstrate a new program which is bringing in new audience members who were never able to experience it before.
Larry Wilken is completely blind, and thought since he couldn’t see the shows at the Civic Center, why bother going? But thanks to a free audio description service, now he can. The Iowa Radio Reading Information Service has teamed up with the Civic Center to offer this opportunity for people, like Larry.
“Larry should have been here before. Think of all the people who thought there’s nothing there for me, and now we are giving them something for them, and we`re giving them something that`s just for them,” said Maryfrances Evans, with IRIS.
Now in addition to the dialogue and music, when Larry puts on the headphones, he can be a part of the little details, including what the actors are wearing, if something falls, or if someone moves in a certain way or does something that’s key for the plot.
Volunteers with IRIS spent several days studying the script, watching the production, and studying the scenes to help them choose what to say to listeners like Wilken that will enhance the show for him.
But as Evans said, it's not just for people with little or no vision: “Learning differences, learning disabilities, special needs kids, we just believe it’s something that will augment the live theater experience for all kinds of people,” said Evans.
As the first of its kind in the state, both partners in this program -the Civic Center and IRIS are still learning. Laura Sweet with the Civic Center explained, “It’s been a great experience so far and of course we are hoping to grow. The number of patrons and guest that we can serve each time is limited at this point, so as people become more aware of the service we are hoping to expand.” But even now at the start, she said, they are seeing more possibilities than they ever expected.
The next step is bringing the program to children's performances.
The civic center and IRIS are especially looking forward to War Horse, which is the next show coming to Des Moines' stage, because as a play, they believe even more description can be given.