A Memphis Theater Brought The Little Mermaid To Life For A Visually Impaired Child
All Cora wanted was to be a part of Ariel’s world.
Going to see a Broadway show is a magical experience, especially if you’ve never been before. There is nothing quite like live theater. Going to the theater is a multi-sensory experience. It’s an all-encompassing experience that starts well before the curtain is raised.
Theater patrons see the flashing lights of the marquee outside of the theater doors when they arrive. Maybe they catch a whiff of popcorn popping away in preparation for intermission at the lobby’s concession stand. They hear the orchestra musicians warming up their instruments in the orchestra pit as they walk down the aisles to their seats. But what if you didn’t have one of your senses? What if you couldn’t see the curtains raise and the actors appear? Could you enjoy the show the same as others?
This is what worried one Jackson, Mississippi mother. Dani Baisden’s six-year-old daughter loves mermaids. She and her friends were all very excited to head to Memphis to see the Broadway Tour of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. But Baisden worried if her daughter would be able to fully enjoy her first Broadway show. Baisden’s daughter Cora is totally blind. As Baisden explained in a recent Facebook Post:
“She was born with a condition called Congenital Glaucoma and, before her 2nd birthday, she could only see some light. That doesn't stop her from being just like every other 6 year old! She is currently trying to decide if she wants to be Ariel or Moana when she grows up. Or, maybe she'll just be a ninja.”
Baisden’s post went on to explain the remarkable way the a few kind hearted people made Cora’s first Broadway show something she would never forget. As it turned her friend Renee, one of the other mothers planning the trip to Memphis for their children to see The Little Mermaid, planned quite the surprise. Cora was to arrive at the Orpheum Theatre early where she met the show’s sound technician, Bernie. He had a special headset just for Cora.
“We then met Aletta Roebuck who would be the voice in my daughter's ear and her window to all of the visual information on the stage,” Baisden said.
Roebuck sat in the sound booth and provided Cora with vivid descriptions of everything happening on stage. She was Cora’s eyes.
“As soon as the curtain rose, Cora leaned over to me and whispered, 'Mommy, I hear Ms. Aletta!' Then as I watch a gorgeous mermaid float across the stage, I heard her say, 'Wow! Ariel has beautiful red hair!' I teared up because I knew that my little mermaid felt totally included in this world of magic and theatre!”
The team at the Orpheum made the magic of theater accessible to Cora but it’s not the first time they’ve done this. This past June, they received a request from a young, visually impaired woman in Canada. She was a huge fan of the musical RENT, and the 20th Anniversary Tour was coming to Memphis. This young woman wanted a chance to really enjoy the show she loved so much, so the staff at the Orpheum found an interpreter and tracked down the necessary equipment to make it happen. After the show, she was invited up on stage to feel some of the props.
Making the theater an inclusive experience is very important to the President and CEO of The Orpheum Theatre, Brett Batterson, as he shared with us.
“Those of us who work in show business are very lucky people. Experiences like this remind us how fortunate we are. I am thankful to the incredible Orpheum staff for going above and beyond to make sure this young girl had an unforgettable experience. This story is such a beautiful reminder that live theater can and should be for everyone. Anytime we are able to open a door for someone to enjoy the arts we have done our job.”
Southern Living spoke with Baisden as well and she told us that she shared this story on Facebook not because she wanted pity for her daughter, but rather to inform others about the issue of accessibility. Thanks to technology and the kindness of Bernie, Miss Aletta, and the Orpheum staff, Cora was allowed to just be a little girl under the sea.
“My daughter is strong and brave and so smart. She is funny and kind and full of magic. She's just like every other kid. She just sees with her ears.”