Grace takes centre stage in blind opera production

It’s one of the world’s most loved operas – Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta is the story of a blind princess who lives a secluded life. Her father, King René, hides her from the world because he doesn’t want his daughter to discover her disability. 

Iolanta is oblivious to her blindness, regaining the sense of sight through love. The opera has never been staged in Perth before – that is until now. Taking the lead role of Iolanta at His Majesty’s Theatre, the home of West Australian Opera, is VisAbility client Grace King.

A first for Perth – blind opera production

Grace is a regular performer at the Perth Fringe Festival and the broader entertainment circuit. She was born in America and has always been totally blind. Her first taste of acting was at primary school.

“This opera production is made for me! If we’re going to have a blind character, then it needs to be performed by someone with no vision.”

Grace King, VisAbility client and performer

Director Zel sits alongside Grace in the auditorium in red plush seats with Director katt in the background
The blind opera production has been months in the planning

“I’m very interested in the arts, poetry, singing and prose. I’ve won trophies for public speaking.” explains Grace.

However, Grace won’t be singing in this performance because she’s not an opera singer.

“Director Katt Osborne decided we could create this opera using a series of monologues, so there’s myself and a professional opera singer,” adds Grace.

Katt collaborated with Disability Consultant Zel Iscel, another VisAbility client, to make this production a reality. It came about following a discussion by Katt with the Artistic Director of The West Australian Opera, Chris van Tuinen.

Grace, Kat and Zel sit on the steps of His Majesty's Theatre Perth
The team hope it’s a step in the right direction for more inclusive operas

“I’ve worked on projects before with Chris. It was important to me that the lead should have lived the experience of blindness. I wanted the storyline to resonate with others with a disability. DADAA – a leading disability arts organisation in Fremantle, put me in touch with Zel. Of course, Zel was just as enthused as me about the project,” Director Katt explains.

“Oh yes, definitely. It’s an opportunity to challenge attitudes around disability. There’s a lot of the storyline from this blind opera production that I can relate to,” Zel adds.

“I’ve witnessed the struggles of apartheid, women’s fight for equal opportunities, the gay rights movement. Together society can break down barriers. Just like Iolanta, I have no vision, but I believe in the power of change. This production will help strengthen misconceptions about disability,” Zel says.

An opera that strikes a chord with your senses

Katt explains that this performance will be markedly different than other operas staged at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth. Describing it as a hybrid, contemporary production she’s sure it will leave a lasting impression among the audience. 

Many of the ideas within the production came about following a series of focus groups with the vision impaired community. It is an immersive production. 

“This opera will appeal to your senses. There are floral smells from the garden, vibrations you can feel beneath you from the auditorium, and sounds coming from different areas of the stage”

Katt Osborne, Director

“Disability is a broad audience. We had to think about deaf people who wanted to access the storyline, so we have incorporated surtitles as well – transcribed dialogues above the stage,” adds Zel.

If you’d like to watch the opera being staged in April, tickets can be bought online (link opens in new window). It has audio description and captions (subtitles).

As well as being a client, Grace was also a volunteer with The Cisco Academy at VisAbility. Its aim was to support people with vision loss to become programmers and to configure electronics.

Assistive Technology is just one of the many services we provide along with Orientation and Mobility services. For more than 100 years, VisAbility has empowered people living in WA with vision loss to believe they can do anything.

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