Victoria Sadler, Huffington Post
Friday October 11, 2013 will be the third annual Read for RNIB Day. There are almost two million blind or partially-sighted people in the UK. Their choice of books is significantly more limited than it is for sighted people. Incredibly only seven per cent of all books are fully accessible for them, robbing them of the opportunity to be fully involved in so much cultural discourse.
In order to raise awareness and funds to address this, the RNIB has devised the Read for RNIB Day to help widen the population of materials available to blind and partially sighted people.
To promote their fundraising day in October, RNIB boldly tasked Punchdrunk director and associate artist Hector Harkness, director Kate Hargreaves of Gideon Reeling and Carnegie Medal winner writer Patrick Ness to produce an inclusive event which told a story in a non-conventional way.
Given free rein to produce the material from this request, the team created Now That You've Died.
Billed as "a book without words, a story without reading", Now That You've Died is a play performed in total darkness. No lights, no flashes. Nothing. I couldn't even see my hand when I held it in front of my face. Intimidating? Yes. Unnerving? For sure. But that, of course, is the point.
With all visual ability not just reduced but removed completely, the story begins.
We are all dead. Welcomed to the afterlife by the Dark Angel, voiced wonderfully by Christopher Eccleston, the audience is forced to address their darkest fears and to let go of hope. This is our first step towards eternity, in whatever glorious, terrifying form that may be.
Of course as one sense is removed, so others are heightened. The audience could no longer see but we could hear, feel and smell. The production team played on this beautifully by situating us on an unstable platform, taking the security of a stable foundation away.
The use of sound in this production was superb. At times there was silence, at times the soft music of love songs caressed our ears. The voice of The Dark Angel would terrify us, and occasionally he would soothe us. But all the time, our ears, our touch, our sense of smell were working overtime to make up for the loss of sight.
The experience was a distressing one for a few in the audience (it probably didn't help that not only had they temporarily lost their sight, but they were being ordered by the Dark Angel to let go of all thoughts of those left behind). But that was a fascinating anthropological study in itself. How would you react to losing your sight? Indeed, how will you react to death?
The production was wonderful and fearless. By choosing not to take the audiobook approach of reading out a simple story to a visually impaired audience, the creative team took the gamble to create a piece of immersive, subjective theatre.
The Dark Angel would spark questions and debate in our own minds. "You are what you remember" he said. What is it that you remember? Then we would be left to confront our own mortality. What memories are we holding on to? Or do we embrace death, hoping to find a lost loved one on the other side? In order to survive the afterlife, we have to let go of all hope. As the Dark Angel says, "You've died. And you've died again."
And so rather than being spoon-fed a story, we were allowed to become part of the narrative itself. Each experience was unique to the audience member. As co-Director Hector Harkness said afterwards, though there's no sight "it's still a world of pictures and of creating them". This time, the world of pictures is in our own minds. Imagination will always fill in the missing pieces.
I hope such bold work inspires similar approaches by other producers. Not only was this ground-breaking for those without visual impairment, but other productions like this would be able to bring in those with visual impairment also.
If you want to get involved with Read for RNIB, visit their website readforrnib.org.uk for more information.
RNIB Sense Story – Now That You’ve Died
Booktrust Press Coordinator Rosi Crawley talks us through the experience of total darkness at the RNIB Sense Story at The Roundhouse
Written by Patrick Ness for the RNIB and spoken by Christopher Eccleston of Doctor Who fame, the RNIB Sense Story that took place at The Roundhouse on Thursday and Friday was an immersive story experience. Armed with little knowledge other than the information that we’d be standing throughout, put in confined spaces with strangers and plunged into total darkness for most of the performance, I battled through a morning rain shower to make my way up the road to the Roundhouse. Afraid? Me? I’m no stranger to Edinburgh Fringe’s avant-garde theatre and comedy shows – I was once that person in the audience you really feel sorry for when I got singled out for 80% of the jokes in one show (never, EVER sit in the front row). I’m not afraid of a little immersive theatre. It’s written by Patrick Ness after all – he who can do no wrong! He wouldn’t scare me. Would he…?
The answer is yes actually, because unsurprisingly being faced with total darkness and Christopher Eccleston telling you to let go of your worldly memories or you’ll be carted off by scary men with swords is quite a frightening prospect. At one point I was literally expecting the burney flames of hell to lick at my feet and either cleanse my sins or fry me to a crisp. I only calmed down a bit when I realised there was a teeny tiny red light behind my head in the corner, and that it wasn’t the glowing eye of Satan himself, but some kind of safety light. Safety, ahh – I am after all, alive and well and not facing the afterlife…
But it was hard to remember that and hard to think of anything else when you can’t see a thing – and here we come to the real point of this story experience. For the blind or partially sighted, the darkness is a daily occurrence for them. For many, reading is a lifeline yet they can only experience it through braille or audiobooks. I was shocked to hear that only 7% of books are fully accessible for the blind or partially sighted. At Booktrust, all our book gifting programmes are accessible for blind and partially sighted children, with braille or large print editions of the books given away always available. But there’s so much more to be done – RNIB has the brilliant talking books service, which they deliver to people’s doors, but I’m really surprised there aren’t more audio books and braille editions available of the titles being published today.
Although I haven’t read it yet, I hear Ness’ next teen title More Than This may (or may not) be set in the afterlife, so now I feel like I’ve had the preview – and it’s already got me thinking on overdrive. Oh, and even more afraid of dying than I was this morning!
Thanks to RNIB for inviting Booktrust along and to the nice ladies at Walker who exchanged helpful terrified glances with me when we could still see each other.
In which Frances Hardinge peers at the Universe and admires the Shiny Bits
“Now That You’ve Died”
Imagine this. You’re at a play. You don’t have to worry about getting a seat with a good view. There are no seats. There is no view. There’s a stage of sorts. You’re standing in the middle of it.
The play starts with a death. Yours.
“Now That You’ve Died” is an ingenious and powerful walk-through story-telling, written by Carnegie winner Patrick Ness, directed by Hector Harkness and Kate Hargreaves and narrated by Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, Song for Marion).
Our tiny audience group numbered eight in total. We were first led through a desolate-looking basement, were the disembodied voice of Mr Eccleston told us (without ceremony but with a degree of wry humour) that we were all dead. We were welcome in the afterlife, but we would have to move on quickly. Thousands more new and hungry dead would soon be piling in after us, and we were not safe from them. Like well-behaved recently-deceased, we stepped into the waiting lift, which quickly succumbed to utter darkness…
…and remained dark until the end of the play.
Artist’s impression of the play
This was a play for every sense except sight. We were intensely focussed on the subtle and unpredictable motions of our ‘lift’, faint whiffs of smoke, the taste of our rations and of course the voice of Eccleston, talking us through our afterlife journey with a beautifully judged mixture of sympathy, cynicism, black humour and menace. We imagined things too, as our minds tried to fill the void, seeing non-existent shapes in the darkness and feeling the warmth from unreal flames.
Darkness isn’t just an inconvenience. It afflicts your mind, making you feel powerless. The narrator and his comrades were invisible to us, the only glimpses of them offered through spoken descriptions, in a chilling accumulation of detail. But the narrator made it very plain that they could see us. They could see not only what we were doing, but everything we’d ever done, felt or thought.
Darkness isolates. There were no ghost train shrieks or giggles as our strange vessel ground, glided and shook along its mysterious route. None of us could exchange glances or smirks to forge a sense of wry camraderie. We were all trapped in our own heads, forced into introspection.
When you’re stranded with only a voice for company, you can’t help giving it your full attention, and letting its words play out across the stage of your mind. How far will you let that all-powerful voice lead you, as it tells you to cast aside everything that belongs to your old life – memory, regret, guilt and love? And at what point, in the quiet of your own head, do you start to rebel?
Despite the ominous theme, the final effect of the play was actually very uplifting. It was a story about resilience in darkness, about what is kept when all is lost, about what is important and what is not.
After a temporary darkness had affected me so powerfully, it was humbling to be reminded that a very large number of people handle loss of vision on a daily basis. In fact, this was the point of the event. The performance had been arranged by the RNIB to raise awareness of Read for RNIB Day on 11th October