Empowerment. Engagement. Authenticity.

Review - A Thousand Splendid Suns

First of all, I want to state that Vocaleye Descriptive Arts Society should not shoulder any guilt for the technical mishap that prevented live description during the second act of A Thousand Splendid Suns at the Arts Club Stanley on October 6, 2019. No one could have anticipated a patron with sight loss using their earpiece incorrectly so that the amplified audio was picked up by the stage microphones. And, once the problem was brought to Vocaleye's attention, transmission of live audio description was immediately halted.

Kudos to Vocaleye and theatre techs for diagnosing the issue after the performance.

With some education on equipment use, the issue will hopefully not repeat itself.

Stage during intermission - A silhouette of mountains against a sunset sky

Now, onto the production, which stands out in my mind for the superb acting and set design.

When one first hears about live description at theatre performances, one automatically assumes that the service is meant to tell people with vision loss what is happening on stage. During performances like The Robber Bridegroom at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, where most of the story was related through nearly non-verbal puppets, this service is vital for those of us who can't decipher facial expressions and body language.

In a production like A Thousand Splendid Suns, another benefit of live description shines through.

The play, adapted from a best-selling novel, was dialogue-rich and easy to follow. Live description, through detailed pre-show and intermission notes, transported audience members with vision loss to the setting of the story. The first detail that caught my attention, and still snags in my mind, is that the light representing the sun and moon was filtered through a cutout of Arabic writing.

What a subtle, space-conscious way to set the story in the Middle East!

I enjoyed the descriptions of the costumes. It took me back to my childhood in Trinidad when members of my maternal family would go to mosque for Friday prayers. I, myself, had had outfits that resembled the baggy trousers and tunics worn by Miriam and Laila in the play. At this memory, it occurred to me that, unless you were familiar with Islamic fashion, you would have no idea or concept of such clothing.

So, yes, live description alerted me to where characters were on the stage – at times there was a central scene and another happening to the side – and live description also helped me distinguish between flashbacks and scenes in the present. In this very verbal performance, however, live description was more essential in creating atmosphere.

In short, live description helped me move from passive listener to engaged patron. As a writer, I appreciate this effort to not only tell the story but to show how the story is told.

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