Accessibility at the Opera

Orchestra seating in Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

A friend and former vision mate worked with the choreographer to rehearse the dancers in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Dvořák’s opera Rusalka and offered me two seats for the dress rehearsal.

One tiny problem, well, two.

I had no one to go with to help me to my seat. And once I found out where the seats were, I realized I’d never be able to get to them. Ring 5 is not for the faint of heart, never mind someone whose brain freezes her when vision and brain see something new, and worse, steep.

View of orchestra seating and all the rings including 5 at the top A glimpse of Ring 5 way at the top

Never fear, for my friend asked her neighbour and friend to accompany me. But she was unable to secure accessible seating.

My CNIB mobility orientation trainer advised me to speak to front office, maybe the manager because the staff don’t usually know about options. I also have discovered that as a person with a disability, I have to advocate for myself because the lack of inclusive thinking in Canadian society means (a) many can’t always accept that, yeah, you need accommodation and/or (b) when they do, they don’t know how to ask. Desperation and fear within you if you don’t get the accommodations you need are powerful motivators to get over the necessity of asking as well as our cultural lessons of don’t ask, don’t make a fuss, don’t put people out. People without disabilities don’t usually have those powerful motivators to help them barge right through those lessons and ask.

And so when I got to the Four Seasons Centre, I asked at the Guest Services Desk where I was to meet my fellow ticket holder, and they directed me kindly to the Box Office. There I showed my cane, stated my small problem of being unable to get to my seat, and they kindly gave me seats in Orchestra requiring only one not-steep step down. Wow!! Every step has a railing, too, for extra stability and safety. Bonus: it was an aisle seat so I didn’t have to balance my way along a row of seats. Phew!

And the most kind thing of all — something that comes naturally to an inclusive thinking (which Toronto has a dearth of, so really nice) — was that though my companion didn’t need accommodation, they sat us together. I don’t know if it was because I asked as they were looking up seats or automatically did it. Either way, changed the whole tenor of my evening.

With so much cognitive energy saved and the feel-good of inclusivity buoying me up, I began to dare to think I could stay for more than one Act. I had a clear line of sight, the seats are designed so that even with a tallish persons in front of me, I could see.

View from my seat in Orchestra with entire stage visible even with tallish person in front of me

The auditorium lighting played havoc with my brain, but the dizziness settled down in time to see and hear the welcome and introduction by a woman from the COC.

The dizziness was worse in the bar area even with me sitting as we waited for the doors into the auditorium to open, probably because of the beautiful expansive space and because that’s where I began my first foray into the Four Seasons Centre. My brain no like open spaces with the visual tsunami it creates. I found also that the dizziness returned when people sat right in front of me. My brain eventually adjusted.

First page of the plain folded explanation we were handed

Anywho, the opera challenged my vision, but it was so good, I stayed for Act II. I had to leave after that, good thing, too, as the day after, I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck with the pain and fatigue. But worth it as a rare opportunity. And if health had allowed, I definitely would’ve stayed.

Explanation of what a dress rehearsal is
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