Extant are the only blind theatre company in the UK. Over the past few years they have been developing new styles to create access for blind performers and audiences alike. Colin Hambrook takes a look at their remarkable achievement.
Experimental work-in-progress The Next Stage was performed nearly two years ago at Jackson's Lane Theatre in London. Extant took a bold step, exploring two main issues. The first was around stage-craft for blind performers. This looked primarily at developing physical performance styles derived from blind people's natural ways of negotiating the world.
The second main theme explored how audio-description is used in a theatrical context. Audio description is often at the bottom of the list of theatre venues' priorities. With some discernment it can be an exciting way of accessing theatre, but equally it can often be dry and add little comprehension or appreciation of the story. Access to theatre for blind and visually impaired people is under-developed and under-resourced. So this was an exciting venture, allowing Extant to break new ground in attempting to create audio-description within the body of the script. Usually it consists of a live commentary delivered to the audience via head-sets.
And there was light
After developing a script based on the true life experiences of several historical blind figures, writer Maria Oshodi concentrated on the story of the blind French Resistance leader, Jacques Lusseyran. In his autobiography And There Was Light, Jacques tells the tale of how he became a teenage member of the French Resistance. He was subsequently captured by the Nazis, and interrogated and incarcerated in Buchenwald concentration camp. Jacques managed to use his blindness as a foil, exposing the prejudices of the Nazi SS. They couldn't believe a blind man capable.
Adapted for the stage, Resistance uses physical theatre, experimental dance and live audio description. Performed by six professional blind and visually impaired actors, Resistance unfolds with a tense, exciting narrative. The action flicks between time, perceptions and perspectives to uncover the deep mystery at its heart. Through his blindness, Jacques becomes aware of a deeper perceptual awareness of the world.
Resistance toured nationally until October 2005, visiting more than 20 venues.
Find out more on the Extant website