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Boise State’s Theatre Program becomes first in Idaho to offer audio description

In the spring of 2023, the Boise State Theatre Arts Program pioneered the use of audio description for their production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” becoming the first theater in Idaho to provide this accessibility service for the blind community. This production season, the Theatre Program continues its groundbreaking work, offering audio description (AD) for select performances of every play during the 2023-2024 academic year. “We were overwhelmed by the very positive feedback we received from our Macbeth audio description audiences,” said Terri Dillion, who helped spearhead the program at Boise State. “People who had never attended a live theater performance attended Macbeth. This season AD in Boise is taking a big leap forward – from AD for Macbeth last season to 10 productions with AD in the 2023-2024 season, including productions perfect for all ages!”

What is audio description?

Audio description provides narration of key visual elements in a video or live performance, thereby helping blind individuals access art not otherwise accessible simply by listening to the dialogue or spoken words of the piece. “We are delighted to be introducing audio description services to our 2023-24 theatrical productions here at Boise State University,” said Darrin Pufall-Purdy, Director of University Theatre at Boise State. Together with Dillion, Pufall-Purdy brought AD services to Boise State productions. “Audio description will push the boundaries of inclusivity and enhance the accessibility of our shows, ensuring that everyone can fully immerse themselves in the magic of theatre. I’m excited to welcome a whole new audience to our theatre and be a part of a project that will have such a positive impact on our community and the broader world of performing arts in the Treasure Valley.”

A team effort

When Terri Dillion discovered that no live theater or dance in Idaho provided audio description, she decided she needed to make it happen. In February 2023, Dillion approached Pufall-Purdy, who jumped at the opportunity to make Boise State’s theatre performances accessible to the blind community. “Everyone on the Macbeth production team and the Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing supported the experience,” Dillion said. “[From] setting up technology, creating a tactile display with a model of the set and costume and prop examples, from recording a pre-performance speech from the director sharing his insights into the play, to student ushers optimized to support the AD audience – everyone was excited about making the project a top notch experience.”

Understanding the importance of working with community stakeholders, Dillion reached out to Alison Steven, the Project Coordinator of Student Transition Services at the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, to help spread the word about AD services to the community. Dillion also reached out to Mike Gibson, the Deputy ADA Coordinator for the Digital Accessibility Office of Institutional Compliance and Ethics at Boise State University. Both Steven and Gibson provided invaluable support and insight based on their experiences as AD audience members and as advocates within the blind community. “Having lost my sight as an adult, I have had to make a lot of adjustments and have had to deal with many occasions when I feel excluded or left out,” Stevens said. “Theater is often one of those occasions. To have an organization recognizing the value of including the blind community in its offerings just means so much to me.”

Inspiring change

Dillion’s pioneering work with the Theatre Arts Program to provide AD services created positive ripple effects throughout the Boise arts community. More organizations have joined the effort. The Morrison Center will provide AD for a matinee at each of their 2023-2024 Broadway Series productions. Ballet Idaho will provide AD for their student matinee of selections from The Nutcracker Ballet. Both will be voiced by Dillion herself. “I am very excited to help present more cultural options to people who are blind and add theater to the events they may fully experience with their friends and family who are blind or sighted,” Dillion said. “I want everyone to have the opportunity for great theater experiences!”

You can view performance dates for the 2023-2024 season and purchase tickets here, including all AD performances.