The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 3, 2014

'Voice' of access: Bethany theater production first in city to offer audio descriptions

Bethany theater production first in city to offer audio descriptions

During rehearsals for Bethany Lutheran College's production of "Voices of the Prairie," Meridith Tietz could be found somewhere in the theater, watching the proceedings, developing her timing and taking notes.

Tietz is not, however, the director.

Rather, she's preparing for a role that is making its own Mankato theater debut — that of audio describer.

"You want to be the extra sense the patron is missing," said Tietz, an instructor for the blind and visually impaired who works with students throughout the region for the South Central Service Cooperative. "You have to be very factual and precise. You're the eyeballs — but you're not in the head of the writer, producer or director."

With Bethany's production of "Voices of the Prairie" opening on Friday, the college is marking a first for the Mankato theater community. On April 11, Bethany is hosting an additional audio description for blind and visually-impaired theater-goers. Tietz is providing the description, which offers listeners additional stage details through a headphone system borrowed from the Guthrie Theater.

Tietz herself has worked in several educational roles as an instructor and consultant. She's also a trained audio describer who has made access a central mission of her career.

For the April 11 production, Tietz is bringing about a dozen students from her classes, many of whom have never experienced an audio-described play.

"It's time for Mankato to pony up here," she said. "A lot of things are happening at the colleges here and all students really should have a chance to participate."

The partnership emerged after director Benji Inniger sought additional perspective for the two actresses who play the role of Frankie, a blind girl whose fantastic journeys with the story's male protagonist fuel the play's narrative drive.

Inniger was eventually linked with Tietz, who was happy to counsel Anna Schroeder and Alyssa Gratz on what it's like to live without the aid of sight. She pointed out incongruities in the text and explained different methods used by the visually impaired to read braille, familiarize themselves with new spaces and navigate their environment.

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