Thursday 22 February 2018

When Relaxed theatre is done well.

When I was younger I was all about dance, ballet, tap, contemporary you name it I was into it in a big way. Recently Bella has taken an interest in ballerina’s. It all stems from a Ben and Holly episode where Holly shows Ben her "darrncing." 

A couple of weeks ago the Birmingham Hippodrome announced that they were giving away free tickets to their relaxed performance of Sleeping Beauty. The message spread like wildfire across Facebook and pretty everyone I know with a disabled child were snapping up the tickets. To some it may seem that the word FREE has a strange effect and people will literally take anything if it's free...well in this case I think that is exactly the case and it's fantastic! How often do parents of boys buy tickets for the ballet at high prices, when they a) have no idea if they'll like it and b) probably have a resistant attitude from them like I did with Logan. 

Normally the idea of taking Bella to a 2 hour ballet production seems like utter madness let alone Logan who played his face every time I mentioned our upcoming visit. My attitude was that if they lasted half an hour it would be a success, they would see a professional performance of a ballet they would not normally get to witness and it wouldn't cost me a penny. 

As we took our seats in the packed auditorium I started to feel a little anxious, how long would Bella last, how long would it take Logan to finish all his food and decide it was time to leave? As the lights dimmed (dimmed to a comfortable level, not complete darkness) a principle dancer in full costume joined by a BSL interpreter entered stage left. In complete anti-ballet etiquette he spoke to the audience explaining what was happening. He informed everyone that they wanted us all to be as comfortable as possible, that if we wanted to cheer or boo we could, that chatting to our neighbour was fine and that the door would be open throughout the performance for if anyone needed a break. We were told that if the noise (albeit much reduced noise) got too much that we could find a Hippodrome helper in a sparkly hat and ask to borrow some ear defenders (genius move!) There was also a sensory room located in the stalls bar, where we were seated as well as areas to do colouring and toys to play with. 

Bella had obviously had enough of the dancers chit chat as she started shouting a very loud count down 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 blast off! In a regular setting this is the time I would start panicking, people would start tutting and turning around but not today. The little girls in front did have a peek but I think they just found it amusing rather than annoying. Somewhere behind us I heard someone crying, it was too much for them. Thankfully it cost them only their time. 

As soon as the performance started Logan was transfixed, he had a wobble halfway through sulking and pulling his face when he realised that it was dancing he was watching and enjoying not Power Rangers or YouTube. Bella swung between the trip being an abject disaster with her lying on the floor trying to escape and her catching a glimpse of a ballerina on the stage causing her to jump to her feet flapping her arms so furiously with utter joy that I had to restrain her so that she didn't knock out the ladies on the row in front. "Outstanding" "Amazing" she would shout (I need to teach her Bravo!) 

We all took it in turns when she got too overwhelmed to take her into the sensory room. If the theatre could get maybe one professional grade bubble tube rather than 4 small mini tubes which are really easy to knock over (believe me I know) I think the room would have been perfect. Bean bags, low lighting and a big screen where families could still watch the show were on offer. 

I've been to many relaxed events before but this was easily the best one for me, both children made it to the end of the show and both took different things from it. Years before I ever dreamed of having my children I was one of the first people to work at the Hippodrome when it re-opened after a massive face-lift. I remember being sad that the old-fashioned decor had all but vanished, back then it didn't occur to me how completely inaccessible the old building was. You never know what you need until you need it, I was a teenager and wheelchair access etc was a low priority. I still feel proud to have worked there and witnessed many fantastic productions over a couple of years and I really love that the Hippodrome is growing to include my children and their peers. 

The disability community is strong and I love that on one afternoon I saw at least 6 families we work with at Square Peg Foundation and knew of about 5 more who were up in the circle out of our view. Some left early, the little girl who I mentioned crying before the show started was someone we know, we met them in the sensory room and unfortunately they made the decision to take her home, others made it half way but a whole lot made it through to the end which is just amazing. 

Most of the families I knew had boys which was in stark contrast to when I went to the Hippodromes BRB First Steps which was an overwhelming little girl fest. 

I really hope this is the first of many relaxed performances that we can enjoy, the theatre does a relaxed pantomime show which Bella visited with school as it was in term time but I think being able to go as a family is just the best. Family experiences are at the heart of Square Peg Foundation so thank you and well done to the Hippodrome Theatre

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