Empowerment. Engagement. Authenticity.

>Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid: Innovative in Inclusion

Wearing a long-sleeved black velvet tunic with rose gold sparkles, Kristy stands against velvet drapes decorated with twinkling fairy lights

As a Low vision consultant in the Vancouver area, I notice that accessibility is often the last item on any project agenda. So I was honoured when the cast and crew of “Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid” welcomed my input during three rehersals.

Co-creator Peter Lorenz explains to me that he envisioned a soundscape anyone could enjoy with their eyes closed.

Neither a musical nor a concert, the production follows the story of Sam, played by co-creator Claire Love Wilson), who inherits her grandmother Morag’s piano and uncovers a cryptic love letter made from lyrics of old Scottish ballads. Compelled by the intimate correspondence and the silence surrounding Morag’s death, Sam imagines a secret queer romance and begins transforming her ancestral songs as she finds her own voice.

The first thing I notice, as someone who is legally blind, is the richness of sound afforded by the venue. Performed at The Russian Hall in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood, the open floor plan and high walls allows sound to wash over the audience. Whether it is the gentle trundle of wheels under a piano as it glides through the diagonal pathways between round cabaret-style tables or Sam’s lilting soprano interwoven with bass and drums, the music and vocals grab you by the lapels and transport you through time and space.

Peter is right. This is something well-suited to the simple act of listening.

But then comes the call for the audience to join a cèilidh, er, a Scottish/Irish party where dance is the focus.

No need to worry, the caller says. He’ll direct us. Just find a partner, preferably of the opposite sex.

Thing is, my boyfriend Shawn – who despite his Irish roots has no clue what a cèilidh is – is completely blind. No way am I capable of guiding us both through a group dance where coordinated movement is key to not getting trampled.

The cast comes to our rescue flawlessly, shifting so that Shawn and I are paired with sighted partners. This accommodation would be added to the pre-recorded audience introduction by the next rehersal to save future blind or low vision attendees from the panic that had assailed me.

As an aside, kudos to Shawn who picks up the steps way faster than I do and who manages to sashay gracefully even as I shuffle along. During the second rehersal we attend, I lose my nerve halfway through the dance and retreat to my seat.

The audio introduction, presented by the cast themselves, has described the characters and the set for the benefit of patrons with vision loss. They even mention that patrons can be met at the nearest bus stop to the venue. Best of all, the cast assures patrons that, while participation in dancing, singing and reading is encouraged, it is certainly not mandatory.

At the opening night performance, I cop out of the dance altogether. My mobility hasn’t been the best lately and, that day, it has been horrible.

I grin as I watch Shawn sail by.

Annika Verveken, who is the Access Coordinator for the production, has paired Shawn with a tall, deaf man. Standing behind Shawn so she can guide him, she calls out directions and simultaneously signs to Shawn’s partner.

Everyone has a blast.

The night ends with a lively dance party, the cast mingling with the audience. Peter asks me to dance and I reluctantly get to my feet. He is so gentle with me, even as I want to retreat like a turtle into my shell. I will my hips and feet to move but only my shoulders sway.

"I used to tell Shawn that he moves like an ironing board,” I say to Peter. “I’m from the Caribbean and grew up with all kinds of rhythm. Tonight, I can barely move my waist. Thank you for pulling me out of my comfort zone.”

This is the magic of seemingly small adjustments that any project can implement to make diverse audience members try something new: audio introductions, empathetic sighted guide assistance, active listening.

Go experience “Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid”. Immerse yourself in turning stereotypes upside-down.

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