Theater productions and performances offer audio description

People’s Light, a professional community theatre in Malvern, welcomes patrons who are blind, or visually impaired. The theatre is one of several in the VisionCorps footprint that offers special performances for patrons with impaired vision. Audio-described performances of theatre and other performing arts are often offered at certain times during a scheduled run, and it’s best to call in advance and ask when audio-description and touch tours will be available.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, People’s Light began offering audio-described performances around 2015 “so that we could broaden our welcome,” said Leigh Jackson, director of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) programming at People’s Light.

Each of the seven productions in the 2023-24 season includes audio description as part of a relaxed performance, said Jackson. At these performances, the “traditional” theatre environment  is “relaxed” and patrons are encouraged to move around, talk, and use communication devices as needed. Patrons who request audio description services will receive a headset and receiver.

Before each relaxed performance, Jackson sends an orientation email. The email includes audio self-descriptions by the actors, as well as audio described previews of the set and the lobby spaces.

For the recent production of “A Christmas Carol,” Jackson sent out audio self-descriptions by the 13 primary actors — it was a lot of audio-files!

The actor who plays Bob Cratchit described himself and his character this way: “My name is Akeem Davis.  I’m about 5’ 6.” I’m a Black man, 36-years-old, and I’m bald – and when I play Bob Cratchit, I speak like this (uses Cockney accent) and my costume for Bob is a patchwork, multi-colored, quilt-like coat that I’m draped in, ascot, and slim-brim Fedora top hat … and there you have it. “

Each relaxed performance also includes a sensory tour before the curtain time. Nicole Sardella, a freelance audio describer in the Philadelphia region, led a sensory tour for “A Christmas Carol.” She described the costumes, parts of the set and passed around material swatches so patrons could feel the costumes.

“This is a 12 x 12 square of fabric that looks like a quilt used as a brightly colored jacket for Bob Cratchit. You can feel the texture and it includes a royal blue liner inside the jacket,” said Sardella. “And here’s fabric from the toile skirt worn by Belle, Scrooge’s love interest.”

She also described scenes in the production: “The ghost of Christmas past is dressed in a white toile dress and the train of the dress includes panels with photos on it,” and “The snow, when it falls, mimics real snow but it doesn’t melt. It can be tossed – it looks like coconut flakes but it’s not edible.”

Sensory tours were initially offered to introduce people with neurosensitivities to productions so they could learn what might be surprising or confusing in the performance. As people with vision impairments began to attend the audio described performances, they were invited to attend so they could also learn more about the production. The tours have become important social gatherings for the individuals in the low vision community.

After the sensory tour at “A Christmas Carol,” patrons received their audio description equipment – a headset and a receiver with different channels that can be adjusted for volume – and Sardella began her audio description of the performance through a radio-enabled microphone.

Sardella first read a description of the play and the stage, set, and live musicians. She described the actors as they entered the stage, and their movements on stage and with the set. Sardella provided audio description throughout the entire performance and stopped only when the actors spoke or sang.

The need for audio describers is growing, said Jackson. To expand the bench of audio-describers, People’s Light helped to create the Audio Description Learning Network, a grant-funded cohort of four regional theatres to train BIPOC and LGBTQ+ audio-describers in the Philadelphia region. Other member theatres are 1812 Productions and the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia and Hedgerow Theatre in Media.

A community conversation followed the performance. Natanya Sortland, an ambassador for VisionCorps in Chester County, helped organize the community conversation for “A Christmas Carol” so patrons could discuss the production.

For information about audio-described performances at People’s Light, contact Jackson at or 610-647-1900, ext. 181. For information about the Audio-Description Learning Network, email


Contact the theatre or performing arts venue to ask if there are audio-described performances. You can also ask about “relaxed” performances and touch tours. Some venues, including the Arts at Millersville in Lancaster offer several Spring 2024 performances that include audio description and are free to patrons who are vision impaired and their companions. Visit the Arts at Millersville.


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