Thursday, January 11, 2018

I Must Be Nutz

Originally written and posted November 13, 2017 by Debra Haas on her blog, Facets of Myself. Reposted with permission.

It’s 2018 and we are preparing to audio describe our first show of the New Year. Looking back at the highlights of our last season, training two describers from the seasoned volunteer corps at Ballet Austin to describe The Nutcracker ranks at the top! Deb and Betty took to description like they had been doing it all their lives, and their hard work paid off when they described several daytime shows for school kids during the holiday season. And Deb took on her first public performance, letting neither rain nor sleet nor snow (!) deter her from her task. Here is a reflection from Deb on her experience learning how to describe as we welcome her to our team! And thank you Ballet Austin for your commitment to equity and access!

I became a Nutcracker parent (and docent) in the fall of 2004. I continued in my role – working back stage, driving carpool, making sure we had the right colored ballet slippers – for the next 10 years, until my daughter graduated from high school and headed off to college.

Over the years, I created a charm bracelet for her with each of the roles she danced... and I acquired some Nutcracker jewelry of my own.

After I was done with the schlep, I continued to be a docent – both at our neighborhood elementary, and at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. When I go, I usually wear one of my Nutcracker pins (along with my Ballet Austin Docent name tag).

This year, I've taken on a new role – learning to do descriptive narration for blind and visually impaired ballet patrons. If you had told me even a couple of years ago that I would spend hours in front of the computer painstakingly taking notes about dancers, costumes, and sets so that I could write a script to describe them in excruciating detail... I am sure I would have scoffed at you. But that is exactly what I am doing.

 Taking notes at the computer
(Photo courtesy of Debra Haas)

While it does give me the warm fuzzies to learn this new set of skills – I am not motivated entirely by altruism...

My father was a world renowned theoretical physicist. He received numerous accolades and held a variety of senior positions at the US Department of Energy during his career – including serving as the Chief Scientist for the Superconducting Supercollider.

Yep – he was a bona fide genius. But at the end of his life, his razor sharp mind was dulled by dementia, and one of the things I learned in the process of helping to care for him – and coming to terms with his death – is that learning new things in middle age, and later in life, may prevent or at least delay the onset of dementia.

So – along with learning metalsmithing – I decided that becoming a descriptive narrator was something that I could do for my community and for myself.

Deb audio describing The Nutcracker

In 2013, Ballet Austin bought new sets and costumes for the production. We bought our daughter an ornament on the tree. On the back it has her name and says Cast Member 2004-2013 – so she could always be part of the production – my name is not there.

She, and the rest of my family think it's "cool" but also more than a little hilarious that after saying that I'd be done with the Nutcracker when my daughter was – that hasn't happened yet.

Selfie of Deb in the audio description booth at Ballet Austin
(Photo courtesy of Debra Haas)

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