Report: Change of perspectives – when the visually impaired play theater and audience wears eyepatches
In front of the entrance to the hall of the Klatovy House of Culture there are already groups of people awaiting today’s performance. At that moment the door opens. Instead of them looking for their seats, the actors put eyepatches on the visitor’s eyes and seat them in chairs arranged in a circle shape. However, the audience cannot guess this because they see nothing. The performance itself can begin.
The mixture of Czech and German voices, bird singing and plastic bag rusting is there to be heard from every corner and various smells are coming from all directions. Sometimes a mosquito buzzes around your ear or you can feel some animal’s fur passing by around you. If you were expecting another Shakespeare-like play, you were wrong. This is not the theater as we all know it.
Change of perspectives
This is how we could describe the impressions of audience who attended the theater performance Brýlen Rauš. It was one of the projects of the organization ČOJČ, which is in charge of organizing Czech-German theater projects. Actors are young people from the Czech Republic and Germany who like to experience new things. The main topic of this project was the change of perspective. Certainly, it is very diverse, which brought diversity to the performance itself. First thing we can imagine was the change of sensory perception. Not only in theatre but also in the daily life we perceive most of the reality by eyesight. That’s why it was decided to make the audience blind and let them experience the play by other senses.
Visually impaired actors
All of these brought up the idea that also some actors themselves could be blind or partially sighted. So it happened that one day I received an invitation to participate in the project. It consisted of one week in August and one in September. As I mentioned, it was an international event, so one week took place in the German town of Saldenburg, where we were accommodated on the premises of the local castle and the other in Klatovy in the Czech Republic.
During both weeks our program consisted mainly of warm-up activities and games and the creation of own smaller scenes, which then made up the performance itself. In advance, in the free time we had the opportunity to visit the surroundings of the venue, and in the first part we even visited the eyeglasses factory. At the end of each stay there was a performance for the public, and at the end also for students of grammar school in Klatovy.
The most interesting thing about the whole program was that, besides the audience, all participants could also experience how it is to be blind. Since there were a few of the visually impaired among us, to make the conditions equal, we used eyepatches even during games and preparations. We even did a guided tour around accommodation and the city. One evening we also had the chance to experience dinner in the dark. This way even those of us who have no vision problems could try out how those who cannot see actually perceive the reality. These experiences were then reflected in the preparation of the play itself, so that the audience enjoyed it as much as possible
Ecology, veganism and politics
Of course, it wasn’t all just about sight loss. The theme of perspective change carries in itself a lot of other meanings, which were reflected in the play too. Just as our sensory perceptions differ, so do our opinions and points of view on certain situations. That’s why we brought up actual and controversial topics such as climate change, veganism, sexual orientation or politics but also for example bullying or interpersonal relationships.
Songs, somersaults and pigeons
As I mentioned in the introduction, the interaction between the audience and the actors was very original. The actors moved all around and even among the spectators, whispering in their ears, making and imitating all sorts of sounds, even playing animals that distracted attention with sounds and props. During the scene taking place in the park, for example, the audience could experience a dog suddenly snuffing and touching their hands or a cooing pigeon relieving on their heads (of course not for real). There was a lot of poetry, singing and playing musical instruments. One of the audience’s favorite scenes then became the so-called somersault, where one of the actors made sounds typical of circus tricks while others commented and chanted loudly.
But that is still not all. Everything that happened on the imaginary stage was a combination of Czech and German – called the ČOJČ language. Its main purpose is to communicate with each other and with the audience who are not proficient in one of those languages. Most words are either spoken in right next to each other, or are put in context so that one can understand them without knowing the other language. At the same time, learning and improving a foreign language is still taking place.
To conclude. Except language knowledge I brought new experience playing theater, some international contacts and a lot of fun.