Custom Search 1

Seeing theatre in a whole new light

UNIQUE THEATRE: Maria Oshodi and one of the Sheer performers

MANY PEOPLE say it is easy to get lost in a good play. But with the new production Sheer, it is easy to lose yourself for a different reason.

Extant, the UK’s only professional performing arts company for the visually impaired is currently delivering a unique theatrical experience to east London’s Stratford Circus. Sheer fuses burlesque, horror and comedy and is staged in light and pitch darkness in order to explore the experience of being partially blind.

Artistic director of Extant, Maria Oshodi, is adamant that her new play will allow audience members to feel sensations that they have never before encountered.
“I think it will be pretty different,” says the director, who herself is blind.

“Everything has been done before but it’s the way we have put it together. We have used some tested aspects of theatre, and the experience is very unique. There is also audience interaction, as well as a story that is being told.”

Incorporating audio description in every performance, the play ensures that when action unfolds on the stage and in the light, members of the audience who cannot see will not miss out.

“Often when [visually impaired people] go to the theatre, you have to wear headphones. But in our show, we have found a way of doing it where it’s much more integrated and you don’t have to wear any devises.”

And by taking away the sighted audience members’ ability to see, Oshodi hopes to show them what life is like living with a disability.

“This play is really targeted at people who can see because we are giving them the sensory experience of having their sight taken away. Hopefully it will make people think about the visual world and what abuses can take place via that medium, which people may not think about otherwise.”

It was this lack of understanding that led the playwright to create her own professional performing arts company, which caters to and works with blind and partially blind performers.

“When I first started there was a lack of exploration,” Oshodi recalls. “Disability companies would use visually impaired actors but have them standing still. They were using their voices but there was no physicality.

“I had an experience of working with someone who was deaf. It was a limited experience for me as an actor, because even though he had disability issues himself, he was very unaware of my impairment and I was surprised at how little he thought I was capable of.

“From then I wanted to try and create a company that would represent, challenge and give opportunity to people who are visually impaired.”

Ever since losing her sight 15 years ago through glaucoma, which she inherited from her father, Oshodi has gone on to write, star in and direct many plays, with her disability being no hindrance.

“My dad is Nigerian and glaucoma is an eye condition that affects a high percentage of people in West Africa. It is the major cause of blindness. From the age of seven it was detected and gradually over the years it has deteriorated, so I’ve been left with very little sight now.

“But I’ve experienced being able to see at one point of my life and it doesn’t affect my ability to write or direct or even prompt on visual aspects of the show. I think that there are some people that are much more visual, and I’m one of them. Even though my sight’s not there, I’m constantly thinking in a visual way.”

Sheer is at Stratford Circus, London on March 16 and 17. Visit 
www.stratford-circus.com
 The play then moves to Artsdepot, London on April 3 and 4. Visit 
www.artsdepot.co.uk
 For more information on Extant theatre, visit www.extant.org.uk

Facebook Comments