Future Reflections  Fall 2006

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All the World’s a Stage


“All the world’s a stage….”
--William Shakespeare, from As You Like It.

NFB President Marc Maurer addresses a group of students from the stage of the auditorium in the NFB Jernigan Institute.Have you ever considered how many times your child will be in an auditorium, theater, or on a stage during his/her school career? Think about graduations, for example. From preschool on up, a student could be in the spotlight as a graduate as many as five or six times during his or her school career, and most certainly will attend many other graduations of siblings and friends. And what about the numerous school assemblies, plays, and musicals that a student will attend not only as a member of the audience, but surely a few--maybe many--times as a performer on stage as well. Most museums of any size boast auditoriums for their public education programs. And we haven’t even discussed commercial theaters, community playhouses, opera and symphony halls, lecture auditoriums, summer playhouses, or even church performances on a makeshift stage in the basement.

Unfortunately, many blind students feel awkward, fearful, and dependent in this environment despite their regular exposure to it. And such feelings are totally unnecessary. Considering the number of times a blind person, from childhood on, will be in this environment, it certainly warrants setting aside time for a few well-planned orientation and mobility lessons. Knowledge and skills in moving about in an auditorium and on a stage will contribute greatly to any child’s confidence and independence in the school environment and in the world.

To help you get started, we are reprinting the following orientation and mobility lesson plans for auditoriums and stages from the book by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei, Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired. I hope the title sounds familiar, and I hope many of our readers already own it. If not, I encourage you to get it. A description of the book is online at the NFB Web site: http://www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Books.asp?SnID=530022273. Information about where and how to order it is included at the end of the article. Here, now, is what Willoughby and Monthei have to say:

MODULE 76: An Auditorium or Theater

by Doris M. Willoughby and Sharon L. Monthei

OBJECTIVE: (1) The student will detect step-downs and drop-offs with the cane, and proceed appropriately.
(2) The student will locate an appropriate seat, sit down, and stow the cane, in varied situations such as auditoriums, libraries, and restaurants.

AGE OF STUDENT: Preschool and up (see individual examples)

Detecting step-downs or drop-offs
Floor plans
Finding a seat
Stowing cane
In a crowd or a line
Sound direction and meaning

Structure of buildings
Human guide
Walking in company with others
Meeting the public
Corners, turns, and angles
Orientation within a room
Obstacles in path
Purchase or transaction
Flexibility and confidence

SEE ALSO (Other Modules):
In a Crowd
Walking Independently While Following Someone
Alternate Routes Within a Building
Orientation Inside New Classroom
Human Guide
Unexpected Drop-off or Step-Down
Visually Confusing Appearance

REMARKS: Show parents and school staff how reliably the cane finds the edge of the stage. Urge that the student be expected to use her cane when she is on stage--when she walks up to receive an award, give a real speech, sing with the chorus, etc.

A blind student may act in a play or take part in any other activity.

Many blind adults recall that their strongest feeling at their own graduation was fear of falling off the stage. How sad--how unnecessary.

TEACHER PREPARATION: Look around the auditorium and the stage. Note overall characteristics and interesting features. Determine whether the student is already somewhat familiar with the area; if so, build on any existing knowledge.

(Elementary grades)
(This example assumes a school auditorium with built-in-seating.)
Ask the student to enter and find any seat, sit down, and place the cane where it is out of the aisle and won’t roll away. (Each time the student takes a seat during this lesson, she should put the cane down and pretend she is going to stay.)

“Think about how it is when other people are here. When you’re walking down the aisle past the rows of seats, how can you tell if a seat is already occupied? … Yes, you might listen; gently touch the back of the seat; touch people’s feet gently with your cane; ask if there is an empty seat nearby… And, of course if it’s a school assembly, you might have assigned seats.

“Practice that, please. I will walk on down the aisle and take a seat on the end of a row, on the left side of this aisle. You come along down, notice where I am, and take a seat farther forward.

“Now, please imagine that you need to climb over a couple of people to get to a seat inside the row. Your cane can help you find where to step, and at the same time it can tell you where there is an empty seat.

“I’m going to move three rows back on this same side of the aisle. I’ll sit near the end, but perhaps not quite at the end. I’ll tell you when I’m ready. Then you count three rows toward the back, walk on in past me, and take the next seat on the other side of me. This is good practice for crowds.”

Continue with practice such as the following:

(Elementary grades)
Note: Even if there is no regular auditorium, there may be a stage. Many elementary schools have a stage in conjunction with the gym. Children sit on the floor, or chairs may be brought in. The blind student should understand where the stage is and its general layout.

CAUTION: Before going onto a stage, consider the maturity and behavior of the child. If she is very impetuous, heedless, or uncertain, hold onto her.

(Preschool age)
Students below kindergarten age, whether blind or sighted, will be closely supervised while in an auditorium. They will be permitted very little independence.

Nevertheless, selected portions of the above activities are very appropriate for a preschool-aged child:

(Elementary grades and up)
Sometimes, especially for a theater-arts class, there is a stage entrance directly from a hallway. The door may look just like other doors.

If such an arrangement exists, and the student is not already familiar with it, consider asking her to enter the door without being told exactly what is within. Depending on the student’s experience and ability, she may be given various degrees of warning. After the drop-off is found and discussed, you can say, “This is a good example of why the cane should be used even after entering a room. You could even say that this is a dramatic example--ooh, terrible pun.”

(Elementary grades and up)
Often a tour can be arranged at a time when there is no show, especially at a “live” theater. Explore as much as is practical, in the manner suggested for the auditorium above. (A theater employee should be with you if you go to a non-public area, including the stage itself.) Look at the ticket window, the lobby area, and the snack counter. Walk around on the balcony, examine the front of it, and be sure the student understands the balcony’s relationship to the main floor. Find the emergency exits.

(Fourth grade and above)
The competence of students above the primary grades in regard to this Module will vary considerably. At any given age, some students will have a good grasp of the skills and a good understanding of the general layout of a theater. Others--even those who are competent elsewhere--may have major misconceptions or lacks. For example, one student may have always gone only to the assigned seating with her class, and may have no idea how many aisles and rows there are. Another student may know how to get onstage from the front, but not realize that there are entrances from behind the stage.

Many students are fearful of falling off a stage. Many believe incorrectly that the cane is “in the way,” too conspicuous, and not very helpful in any part of a theater.

It is wise to “spot-check” even an advanced student. Try a few selected exercises from the examples above (presented in an age-appropriate manner). If many problems and needs emerge, the student should have detailed practice.

Moving about comfortably in theater-style seating is important for anyone. Furthermore, most people, at one time or another, find themselves on stage--perhaps only briefly and as part of a group, but nevertheless on the stage.

Integrate and reinforce skills:

Recently, I complimented one of my students for an excellent talk about Braille at the city-wide PTA meeting. But I was disappointed that her cane had been nowhere in sight.

“I could never have found my way around that auditorium at South High alone,” she protested. “Someone had to guide me up to the podium. And I didn’t know where I’d put my cane. In some theaters there’s no way you can get it under the seats.”

Looking around the student’s own school, I located a theater-arts classroom with which she was not familiar. We found a time when it was vacant, and I (with exaggerated fanfare) simulated the PTA program: “May I show you to a seat, Ms. Ainsworth? … And now it’s time for the next item… Ms. KAREN AINSWORTH! Would you come on up to the podium, Ms. Ainsworth? Right up here…”

Thus she walked toward my voice, here and there in the large room which had unexpected step-downs. To her delight and surprise, she easily succeeded without ever taking my arm. (I explained that in a real situation, she might indeed choose to take someone’s arm for a time, but this did not exclude the cane.) She practiced placing the cane under her seat and by the podium. During “informal moments after the program,” she walked around the room alone. Later we repeated all this while her mother watched.

With a cane, one may choose to accept various degrees of help from time to time. Without a cane, there is no choice but dependency.

VARIATION(S): Introduce your student to various kinds of settings, formal and informal. Compare the seating in a church or temple. Examine an outdoor amphitheater or stadium. Discuss definitions and graduations--e.g., when does a “meeting room” or “classroom” become an “auditorium” or a “theater”?

How to order:
Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired may be ordered from the NFB Independence Market at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2216. Fax: (410) 659-5129. Email: independencemarket@nfb.org. Web site: http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Products_and_Technology.asp.

You may order online, by phone, or by fax if you use a VISA, MasterCard, or Discover credit card. The book in regular print format is item number LSA01P and costs $20 plus shipping and handling. Please contact the Independence Market for current shipping and handling charges.

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