ASTRA Audio Description INTRO NOTES are HERE!

The Soundcloud link and header for ASTRA INTRO NOTES: An image of the character LILT, a pensive dark-skinned puppet against a green hedge and white sky.

We are delighted to announce that the ASTRA Audio Description Intro Notes have landed! Written by Ess Grange and Naomi Foyle, and recorded by Sherelle Amah-Francis in the voice of Astra’s close companion Lilt, the Notes are a 13 minute file we encourage all our hearing audience members to listen to. The text is provided below (underneath the photos) for anyone who is D/deaf or prefers to read it. As our Access Consultant Prof Hannah Thompson, author of the influential blog Blind Spot, strongly argues – Access should be for All!

AD Intro Notes are traditionally a short description of the set and characters of a show, recorded for visually impaired people to listen to in advance, so they arrive at the theatre equipped with essential information that non-blind people can absorb at a glance. In Creative or Integrated use of AD, the AD is not an ‘add on’ but part of the show. In the case of ASTRA we chose to make the describer a character, Lilt, and the Intro Notes became a chance for Lilt to explain themselves as well as the staging – adding both psychological and worldbuilding dimensions to the experience of the performance. Sherelle voices Lilt in the overall soundtrack, and hearing her describe the show – with her intimitable delivery! – helps to deepens the listener’s immersion in the storyworld.

Intro Notes are customarily made available before the show on a website or via email, and are also read at the theatre (or played if pre-recorded), shortly before the curtain rises. AD users wear headsets, and depending on the tech set up, can listen to the Notes either in their seats, or in the bar area. Due to technical difficulties earlier in the process, we didn’t QUITE run to schedule with our AD recording, so both the Intro Notes and the AD through script (describing the actions of the puppets on the stage as the play progresses) were read live on opening night by a professional Describer, Jonathan Nash, provided, like Ess Grange, by our project partner VocalEyes. On June 7th Sherelle Amah-Francis recorded the through script, which will be heard at the June 12th and July 3rd live sharings, as well as in the film of the show.

It wasn’t what we planned, but the beauty of how thing’s turned out is that Lilt, a non-binary character, whose AD was co-written by Ess (she/they) and Naomi (she/they) ended up being voiced by Sherelle (she/her) and Jonathan (he/him). If you listen to the Intro Notes you’ll understand when we say Istar must be watching over us!

ASTRA’s access provision also includes Touch Tours. As Prof Hannah Thompson and the whole Access Team can testify, these are a beautiful opportunity to get up close and personal with Raven Kaliana’s gorgeous puppets and set! The Touch Tours are scheduled for 17:00 on May 31st at the Open Dress Rehearsal (The ShowRoom in Chichester) 15:30 on Jun 1st at the Brighton Fringe Sharing (Ironworks Studios) and 17:00 on Jun 12th at the Brighton Neighbourhood Sharing (Brighthelm Centre) [Note, the person due to lead this Touch Tour has Covid, so unless we can find a replacement, sadly this Tour may not happen]. (Chichester Touch Tour TBC.) While visually impaired people are a priority, the Tours are Open to All. If you are coming to an event and would like to attend a Touch Tour, please email info@astratheatre.earth. (Also email us to book a place for the Brighthelm Centre sharing).


Photos by Hassan Mahamdallie, taken at the ASTRA Access Consultancy Rehearsal Visit, May 27th 2022, The White Studio, University of Chichester Theatre Building.

ASTRA Audio Description INTRO NOTES

Written by Ess Grange and Naomi Foyle
Voiced by Sherelle Amah-Francis

Hey. My name is Lilt, welcome to my story space. I’m here to guide you through it. My tale takes place across two very different lands – Is-Land and Non-Land. I belong to both – and to neither. That might not make sense to you, but to tell my story, I must move through many opposites: between life and death, dream and reality, light and shadow; things that are clear, in focus, and things that are hidden or secret. I’m on a journey to try and figure out how all these contradictions co-exist without tearing us apart, and my travels take me through five different story spaces – I’ll describe them now.

On the left is the shadow box – a rectangular white fabric structure that stands at shoulder height, and is about a metre and a half wide.  A warm glow shines through from behind it, revealing silhouetted figures and landscapes or rooms sketched in light and shade on the cloth. Some characters in my story are so terrible we will only meet them as shadow forms. But we all have our shadow sides, don’t we?

Over on the right is another kind of shadow box: an IMBOD phone screen. IMBOD is the Is-Land Ministry of Boundary Defense. It’s kinda like the government, the army and a religion all wrapped up in one. I’ve got major issues with IMBOD myself. But they make the best phones, and we need our phones to find out what’s happening in the world. Or, as the Zardusht calls it, World Without. The Zardusht is awesome. You’ll meet her later.

To the far left, standing down to the side of the phone screen, is Istar. She’s a goddess. I mean, literally!  Istar is beyond awesome. She’s an immortal presence, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Love and War, Goddess of the Morning and the Evening Star. Unlike IMBOD, Istar doesn’t manipulate or control people. She gives us a choice, to join forces with her or not. And if we do, she travels with us. Mostly, she’s invisible. Sometimes when the light changes, or the bees hum, I know she’s with me. Other times, when she has something important to communicate, she appears in a human form, so we’re not frightened of her. In my story space she’s a medium height female of North African heritage with curly brown shoulder length hair, wearing black with a shimmering dark gold cloth hanging from her hips. Mostly she listens to us, with her heart as well as her mind. She speaks all human languages, but her favourite is sign language. When the people in my story world speak, she interprets our words in sign language, and gives our souls a home in her celestial body.

So those are the furthest reaches of my story space. In the middle is the ziggurat – a square, stepped pyramid that stands about a metre high. This is our earth, and our underworld, our desert and our forest, our Is-Land and Non-Land, our city and our Wise House. Right now, it lies on its side, base towards us, revealing a warm dark cave about metre-square, lined with soft brown velvet. Later, it becomes a green hill, or flips completely to become a sandy desert, or the level floor of a law court.

Above the ziggurat is a wall. I mean a fracking great enormous wall. It runs behind all my story spaces, and guess what the sign on it says? Yup. That’s right: WARNING. IS-LAND BOUNDARY. AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY. BY ORDER OF IMBOD. There’s an icon beside the words, the IMBOD Shield, a sigil, you might call it. It looks like a red sun surrounding a triangle divided by a red vertical line. In Is-Land they say the IMBOD Shield represents feminine power, because Is-Landers worship Gaia, our mother Earth, or at least they think they do. But the sigil is pretty scary, really. Like a sleepless hawk’s eye inside a spinning circular saw. I grew up in Is-Land, and I got into Gaia, who is sort of like Istar’s sister. But I never liked the IMBOD Shield.

These are all the places we need for this story. Now let me introduce you to the characters who live here, in my story, in my world. You might call us all puppets. But when I check my phone and see what’s going on in your world, who’s the puppets, I wonder? For myself, I prefer the word avatar. You humans just use it for gaming these days, but it means so much more than that – one definition of an avatar is a manifestation of a divine being. Not that I think I’m Istar, but I do know that us small wood and cloth figures have an uncanny way of connecting you human beings with your higher selves. I think that’s because the higher self is another word for inner child.

First you’ll meet me, Lilt, as a child, lost in the woods. I wear nothing but a green silk sash across my body, and a white string belt. My feet are bare. My hair is short and messy, very curly and black. My skin is mid brown and my face round, gentle – my gold-hazel eyes are very big and full of questions. Male and female is another opposition I slide between – I’m not a girl or a boy – please use they/them pronouns for me.

Next is Astra Ordott. She is very beautiful, with warm brown skin, a slender fine face and green eyes that flash with determination. Astra has long dark hair with red hues that she wears in braids, twisted and pinned messily up on her head. She wears a blue short-sleeve, high neck top with sparkles picking out a star form in the centre. Hanging from her waist is a cream loincloth that falls to her feet at the front, with a band of dark blue patterned embroidery at the bottom. She has yellow sandals on her feet. Astra and I … well, it’s complicated. You’ll get that when my story starts. 

We both grow up with Peat Orson. He’s tall with a big mess of curly light brown hair and light brown skin with a splash of freckles. He wears a sash of sparkling beaded red and black embroidery and a red and black belt. He has sturdy boots, but for all his bravado his copper-colour eyes are sad and he is often uncertain. Because of IMBOD, I had to hide away from Peat when we were growing up, but I used to watch him from the woods, and what happened to him later on made me sick to my stomach.

Hokma is our shelter mother. She is tall and wise, and has big beautiful purple-grey hair that falls in tight curls to her waist. She wears a sparkly embroidered top in pale grey-purple and a long loin cloth same as Astra, but with gold embroidery at bottom, and a long black tasselled belt. She has sensible black sandals. Her face is slim and delicate, and her skin pale brown. Hokma was wounded in battle and she wears an eyepatch. Not a sparkly lacey femmy eyepatch. No, a black pirate patch. That’s Hokma for you.

In Non-Land we will meet Uttu, a grandmother with sad hazel eyes, and laughter lines creasing her broad face. Her grey hair is braided and tucked under an emerald-green headscarf. She wears a long dress, layered with a long-sleeved cotton jacket and shirt in colourful purple, green and cream. On closer inspection those woolly cream patches turn out to be little sheep.  And when you meet Uttu’s grandson, Muzi, you’ll understand why.

Muzi is young and handsome. He wears sheepskin boots, loose dark trousers, and a purple waistcoat over a light green loose shirt. There is a red cap over his curly dark hair and a white bandana around his neck. He has blue eyes, like bits of the sky in his earthy brown face. One of his hands is smaller than the other, and he walks as if on tiptoe, because his feet are small too. Uttu sometimes wishes out loud that he hadn’t been born like that, but Muzi shrugs it off. He knows she only says such things because she loves him and is angry about their toxic environment. But he likes his life. He loves his family, and his sheep, and the hills, and music and dancing. Muzi’s a great dancer.

In the shadows, we will encounter Samrod Blesserson and Clay Odinson, two tall men who have short, neat hair, pointing fingers and domineering poses. They loom over other people. Why they are the way they are, I don’t know. People who enjoy making other people feel small are a mystery to me.

We will also meet kind folk in the shadows – the Zardusht, an elegant woman with flowing robes and bangles, with her own deep spiritual connection to Istar. Zizi, a genial portly older man; Enki, a freedom fighter and poet, who delivers his blistering rap from a swivelling wheelchair; and Muzi’s family – his young brother Suen, a science student who has been blind from birth and uses a white shepherd’s crook as a cane, and their mother, Habat, who coughs a lot, due to her work at the mine. We will also meet Jasper, another young man, an Is-lander who also fights for freedom with words.

To help me tell my story, three humans have joined Istar in the story space. Raven Kaliana, who is wearing plain black clothes. She is average height with dark shoulder-length hair, glasses, and pale skin. Gun Suen, a performer originally from Hong Kong. He has a warm smiley face with short black hair and brown eyes. And Sara Guedes, who is a short black woman, with an oval shaped face, small brown almond-shaped eyes and a puffy brown Afro. She is wearing black, and she’s got circular tribal tattoos on the back of both hands.

So that’s my story space and all the beings in it. You’re very welcome to join us!

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