This Houston theater is making plays more accessible for visually-impaired patrons

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  • Published on April 24, 2023
  • Last Updated June 14, 2023
  • In Culture

“Touch Tours” allow patrons to touch costumes, tour the stage, and more.

The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts is giving vision-impaired theater lovers an interactive way to experience stage shows.

The Houston theater has resumed its Touch Tours, which gives patrons who are blind or have some level of vision loss the opportunity to get up close and personal with the integral parts of a stage production.

According to The Hobby Center’s website, the tours “are a tactile introduction to the sets, props and costumes for a production. Patrons participating in the tour receive information from production staff and may be given the opportunity to go onstage to familiarize themselves with the layout of the set as well as interacting with props and costumes.”

Touch Tours started nearly one decade ago and volunteers have conducted them for over 30 productions, including the “Lion King,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Hamilton.” “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” marks the reintroduction of Touch Tours since the pandemic.

“Broadway is such an American phenomenon,” blind patron Sandhya Rao told NBC News. “Hamilton was so popular and we also could be part of that dialogue and say, ‘I experienced it and I see why it was so wonderful.’ It’s part of inclusion.”

The conversation around accessibility and inclusivity doesn’t stop at the tours, but are also considered by the stage performers during showtime.

“That’s what our whole job is, giving people an experience,” said actress Libby Lloyd, who plays Nini in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” “If there’s something that I can fine tune – even if it’s texturing my voice with different things – that can convey different emotions that they can’t see on my face, but they can hear and feel on a more visceral level.”

The tours also align with the essence of not only “Moulin Rouge!,” but the theater community as a whole.

“In the opening parts of the show, it says, ‘Everyone’s welcome at the Moulin Rouge.’ It’s a place where people find haven, people that maybe aren’t considered the norm of society, but they can come there and find a family and a community,” said production stage manager, Dawn Fenton.

Although there is always more that can be done to make spaces more inclusive for all, Touch Tours at The Hobby Center symbolizes the positive impact programs like these can have on the community.

“We can come to the theater and get this amazing experience just like everybody else,” Rao said. “We are a part of society. We’re all trying to live our lives and live full lives, and the theater is part of that for me.”

Touch Tours are offered for select performances and take place two hours before the start of the show. For more information, visit The Hobby Center’s accessibility web page.

Roshae Hemmings is an arts and culture magazine journalist from St. Louis, MO. A graduate from the Missouri School of Journalism, Roshae has bylines in the Columbia Missourian, Vox Magazineand 5280 Magazinediscussing topics ranging from pop culture, social justice and eat and drink. She is a foodie at heart and enjoys eating food as much as learning about the story behind it. When she’s not working on a story, Roshae enjoys cooking, watching and analyzing reality TV, and spending time with family and friends.

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