Belgium EVS: Jan & Feb 2018

So here we are, a long overdue update about the first few months of 2018 in Belgium. I indulged in a prolonged Christmas break which meant that I didn’t get back to Belgium until mid-January, so I didn’t feel like I had enough to write about at the end of last month to publish a post. Now I’m trying to remember everything that’s happened during the last couple of months and struggling to know where to start. Typical!

Logically I guess I should start with January 1st 2018. I saw in the new year watching the fireworks display over the Space Needle in Seattle, USA. Myself and boyfriend got on a plane a couple of days after Christmas and headed off to the emerald city to spend a week with friends. It was a great trip; not my first time in America, but my first time there since I was nine so it’s fair to say a bit different. Our friends were great hosts taking us to visit the Museum of Pop Culture and the Space Needle of course. I’m afraid we displayed an inappropriate amount of Britishness on a couple of occasions; exclaiming about portion sizes and worrying about tipping etiquette and so on. A highlight was a walking tour of Hike Place Market when a local tour guide took us to five different bars/restaurants in down town Seattle to sample some delegacies. I’d definitely recommend walking tours to blind or VI travellers when visiting somewhere new. They are a great way to get to know wherever your visiting, with the added bonus of being shown around by a local so you know they know their stuff. We contacted the guide beforehand to let him know that our group included four VI people and he couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful.

I spent another week at home after Seattle before travelling back to Belgium, but not before going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre, London. I’ve talked about my love of live theatre before in this post and how companies like VocalEyes provide live audio description and touch tours of performances. This was also included in this performance of The Cursed Child and I can honestly say that I’ve never been to a performance with more people there for the audio description than this one. The play itself was amazing and overall it was a very nostalgic day for a long-term Potter-head like myself.

And now we finally get back to Belgium. My first week back included the second session of training for all the EVS volunteers, organised by the national association. This was a great opportunity to get together with the other volunteers again and to reflect on our progress and our expectations of our EVS projects. I found it a little hard coming back to Belgium after spending so much time at home with family and friends over Christmas, but I had a good time with other EVS volunteers and exploring Brussels a little more.

After the training it was back to work at the office. I feel more comfortable and confident in my job in the office now; I feel like I know what I’m doing and what is expected of me. I’ve been doing more of the same, helping organise local events and international projects, managing the social media and helping out with other various tasks here and there. I’ve also continued my French classes, but all be it in a new school which I much prefer. The lessons I attend now are much better suited to my current level of French and I feel more comfortable with my teacher and classmates. It just goes to show that if something doesn’t work, it won’t get better unless you do something about it.

Otherwise, I’ve managed to get a bit more active by joining a walking group and a Torball club, and I’ve even given blind football a go. For those who don’t know, Torball is somewhat similar to Goalball which is far more prevalent in the UK, but with a few minor changes to the rules. I’m enjoying playing but also enjoying the social side of training as well.

I’ve also done a little more travelling this side of the new year. I spent a weekend in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago and am heading off for a couple of days in Paris tomorrow. I’m joined on both these trips by my boyfriend, but I am hoping to get in some solo trips to visit different friends in various places very soon. Germany is on my bucket list, as well as Bruges and Ghent in Belgium. My discounted Belgian travel card arrived in January which makes travel much easier (cheaper) and the assistance system works much the same as in the UK; you book your travel assistance online or over the phone and all being well you should have no problems.

The obligatory Jazzy update is very positive. She very much enjoyed her holiday at my mum’s house while I was in America, but she was happy enough to get back into the harness on my return. She seems very settled and comfortable here in Belgium now, even if she is still bemused whenever we get into a car on the wrong side. I’m pretty sure she finds our excursions to new places very exciting if the increased speed and wagging tail is anything to go by. With the combination of my selection of navigation apps and her intuition, we manage to get around pretty successfully most of the time, so I don’t worry about heading off and exploring new cities. Plus, the puppy-dog-eyes come in very useful if we’re trying to get someone’s attention to give us a hand 😉

It’s a bit of a strange time right now because even though I’m only half way through my project I have to start thinking and planning for afterwards by applying for graduate schemes and internships and so on. In other news I’m still trying to get used to people greeting me with kisses instead of a handshake; I think I’ve gotten better at not cringing away when someone lunges at me with pursed lips, but I can’t say it’s something I’ve yet mastered. I also think I’ve stumbled on a really innovative way of making friends; a few times now I’ve been wandering around looking a bit confused when I’ve momentarily lost my Barings, when someone lovely has offered to help, and we’ve ended up swapping contact details and keeping in touch. Maybe not the most conventional way of meeting people but so far, it’s worked.

And I suppose that’s it for this instalment of the EVS diaries. It’s a fairly busy month ahead in work, my birthday is coming up and I have a trip back to the UK planned for mid-March, so stay tuned for further updates.

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Confessions of a VI theatre lover

 

Being a literature student, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you that I am a self-confessed theatre buff. Plays, musicals, dramatic monologues; the theatre is one of my favourite places to go because I just adore the magic of the stage. I believe that there are fewer things more electrifying than being privy to a really powerful performance.

I’ve been to the theatre twice this summer and am due to go again this weekend, not to mention having a few performances lined up for the rest of the year. So seeing as it’s something of a regular occurrence for me lately I thought I would explain a little bit about what it’s like to go to the theatre as a visually impaired person.

Audio description and touch tours

Visually impaired patrons of the theatre can attend specific performances that feature an audio description service. During these specific performances, anyone who is blind or partially sighted can request a headset through which they can hear a live commentary of the visual aspects of the performance. The commentary is designed not to impede on the dialogue so that you can keep track of the action on stage while picking up the description simultaneously.

Audio described performances also often include a touch tour. Usually scheduled at least an hour before the curtain goes up, the touch tour gives visually impaired patrons the opportunity to get hands on experience of the stage, costumes and props. Exploring the layout of the stage and being able to inspect the props and costumes close up certainly helps me build up a more accurate picture in my mind enabling me to visualise the performance. It’s an added bonus if the actors come to meet you during the touch tour!

My most recent trips to the theatre have been to see To Kill a Mockingbird (TKM) at The Barbican Theatre and The Importance of Being Earnest (IBE) at the Vaudeville. Very different stories, but both equally brilliant performances. I received audio description for both and got there in time for the touch tour for IBE.

To Kill a Mockingbird

TKM is a very emotional story and I’m not ashamed to say that the intense atmosphere and fantastically talented actors had me welling up on more than one occasion. I was blown away by the child actors playing Scout, Gem and Dill, not only because their accents were amazing!

Having the actors address us in the audience as if we were the jury during the court-house scenes was particularly powerful, and the tension in the room when Boo Radley finally appeared on stage was incredible!

The Importance of Being Earnest

I was welling up during IBE as well, but because I was laughing rather than crying! The Vaudeville’s auditorium is much smaller than that of The Barbican’s which made for a much more intimate atmosphere. This meant that when Algernon addressed the audience with some quip or comment about his companions, it really felt like he was sharing a secret with you. All of the actors were spectacular but David Suchet’s portrayal of Lady Bracknell was a particular hit, having the audience in hysterics more than once!

Attending the touch tour for this performance definitely made a difference. I was able to appreciate the speed of the scene changes that much more after having exploring how small and crowded the stage was for myself. Getting to see all the props up close, right down to the intricate paintings on the walls added that extra bit of detail that made it that much easier to picture the opulence and wealth depicted in the set in my mind.

Vocaleyes

The audio description and touch tour were produced by Vocaleyes; a registered charity dedicated to the description of the arts. Vocaleyes provide audio description for theatre performances including plays, musicals, ballets and opera’s, as well as recorded audio tours for museums, galleries and architecture. They also provide training and advice on how to best support blind and visually impaired customers to venues with assisted performances.

I must say that every assisted performance I’ve attended with Vocaleyes has been brilliant. The audio description is descriptive without being intrusive and the commentators attentive but not overbearing. All Vocaleyes staff I’ve met have been friendly, accommodating and happy to help. During IBE, I took advantage of Vocalise’s service to arrange for someone to take care of Jazzy during the performance. She was returned to me at the end of the play fed, watered and walked, much to her enjoyment! Vocaleyes provide an excellent service making the arts as accessible and inclusive as possible.

To find out what Vocaleyes are getting up to in your area, check out:
http://www.vocaleyes.co.uk

I hope I’ve shed some light on how it’s possible to experience the theatre as a visually impaired person and if you’re blind or partially sighted and have never been to the theatre before, I hope my post has succeeded in encouraging you to try it; there really is nothing like it!

Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog all about my weekend seeing the sights in London!

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