Tuesday, March 13, 2012

At The Ballet - Sleeping Beauty

"Everything is beautiful at the ballet ..."

I can't help having that song from 'A Chorus Line' run through my head every time I book tickets to the National Ballet of Canada. I want 'everything to be beautiful at the ballet ...' primarily because we have been taking Ruby who has developed a love for dance. Her parents find her sitting at the computer watching scenes from Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. Though I don't really understand ballet - I enjoy it. We took Ruby to see the National Ballet of Canada's production of the Nutcracker and experienced a lot of difficulties. Because of ticketing snafus we ended up sitting in a completely different part of the theatre, not getting to experience her first ballet.

Anyone who know me knows that I complained and spoke to the National Ballet who seemed to really want to rectify the situation and, indeed, they instantly made changes to their website so that mistakes, like the one which we experienced wouldn't happen again. We went again to the Nutcracker and everything went well, Ruby had a terrific time, after announcing in a stage whisper, just after it started - 'Hey, I've seen this before!' An old hat at ballet at 5. We saw, when there, that Sleeping Beauty was coming and we asked her if she wanted to go ... she said 'yes' before the question was fully asked.

It took a bit of arranging, Ruby living in a different city and all, to get times and tickets. Once again, we took great care to get the seats, calling and specifically booking accessible seats. We'd been twice before and knew the theatre, knew which seats we wanted, they were selected and booked. We all arrived in a buoyant frame of mind. We'd spent much of the morning in the Saint Patrick's Day parade and Ruby had worked at handing out 'Words Hit' cards. Now it was time to relax and be swept up into a magical world. We were meeting a friend there so Joe suggested that Ruby and I go get our seats and he would wait for our friend to arrive.

On our way to our seats we were stopped, right in front of the elevators and informed that there was a problem with seating and and alternate arrangements had been made for us. I was very aware that we were in the way of the elevator doors and people were crowing around. We moved over and out of the way. I expressed concern that the seats we booked were not the seats we were getting. I was immediately worried about being able to sit together. A great way to start the experience, worried, wondering if I was to be separated again. I was told that we were all going to be in the 'royal box' ... the best seats in the house. To me, the best seats in the house were the one's that I booked.

So we had to wait for all to arrive, when Joe found out that we had been moved he nearly stormed away in anger. This is getting to him too. Ruby, of course was watching all of this. She knew that we didn't have our seats, she knew we were being moved, she knew that I was upset and that Joe was upset. I expressed, in no uncertain terms that this kind of treatment wasn't acceptable. I didn't want anything more than to be able to go to the ballet, go to my seat, enjoy the show. I want to experience the production on the stage, not the one that takes place trying to seat me,  a wheelchair user, somewhere in the theatre.

The 'best seats in the house' in the 'Royal Box' were indeed good seats. However we were a long way from the stage, a long, long way. The seats we had booked were right up front. Right up where you can see the dancer's faces, this is where Ruby loves to sit, the only place she ever has. We all saw the ballet but, as we didn't know we were going to be so far away, we didn't bring our opera glasses, we didn't prepare Ruby for how the experience would be different. Going again, I wouldn't book the 'royal box' ... I'd try again to get us up front and close. But I gather we were lucky that they had any seats at all for us.

We go to the ballet because of Ruby. She has shown a real interest and we really want to encourage and support her as she discovers art and dance and theatre and ballet. We want her to savour the experience. We love watching her sit in her seat and move her arms around trying to copy what the ballerinas were doing. We love what she is learning there. Because, we know, Ruby is learning.

But I worry that while she learns about the ballet, she also learns about disability. She learns that being with me means that no seat is ever guaranteed; that being with me it's up in the air if we will sit together; if we will be in the same part of the theatre; if we will sit where we had planned to sit.  That being with me means that people will come along and take our seats away and put us somewhere else. That being with me means inconvenience and unpredictability and fuss and bother. I worry that she is learning that being in a wheelchair - even though I try to teach her differently, is a problem.

It would be easy for Ruby to up thinking that the problem my disability not their inability. Their inability isn't visible, other than in its consequences. And even many of the consequences are invisible, like what it does to my heart and soul to be centered out, have my expectaions unmet; my trust broken; and then what it does, I'll admit, to my self esteem. Disability verus Inability (or maybe even unwillingness) - Ruby sees my chair - and she sees who sits in it. She is too young yet to know that people may apologize with gentleness yet manage to transfer the responsiblity for the problem to something outside themselves and something under me - my wheelchair.

I, of course, have called the National Ballet, and I've spoken to them about what happened. They, of course and predictably, apologized and said that something would be done. I don't understand what that something is ... I book a seat, I book a set of seats, we get those seats. Ruby wants to go back again, she's asked to go to Alice in Wonderland, and we will go. Because she wants to go. I'm not going to let the fact that now when I book seats with the National Ballet, I have absolutely no faith that I will get those seats stop Ruby from experiencing ballet. I'm not going to let the fact that two times in three when attending the National Ballet, we've had problems and that I've had to deal with upset plans and rearrangements stop Ruby's learning to love the music and the movement and the moments of beauty at the ballet.

So I wish that the National Ballet would realize that they have a responsibility to Ruby too ... that beyond putting on a show, they should be teaching her that all customers are valuable. That having a disability doesn't preclude an expectation of welcome. That having a disability doesn't mean that Dave is inconvenient. That Dave is a problem. That it just might be better if Dave didn't come along. I wish that the National Ballet would somehow realize that the experience isn't just about dance and it isn't about music - it's also about beauty.

Because everything is beautiful at the ballet ..

And welcome is beautiful.

And inclusion is beautiful.

And accessibility is beautiful.

And if the ballet is to be beautiful - it needs also to be a place where quality meets equality. And the National Ballet, failed us, again, on the second point, for the second time.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

I dont often swear, I was brought up to be polite. But after reading your post today, there is only one word left in my head. A big and loud "SHIT!"

And yes it is a hard lesson learned: With a disibility you are never guranteed anything.


Gladys said...

You worry about Ruby seeing your disability as the problem. I am absolutely convinced, from my own experience there, that they see disabled patrons as the problem. They sell us seats because they have to, that doesn't mean they actually want us to be there. I will never go again, but then I don't have a Ruby. You must love her a lot to even try to go back again. I'm pretty sure that over time they will eliminate all undesirables and will be left with their very white, very able crowd. I buy DVD's of my favourite ballets. I'd rather be there, I think they'd rather I stay home.

Kristin said...

Like Julia, I'm finding a need to spew invectives. Nothing else quite seems to capture my disgust over the failings of the NB of C. I am so sorry.

Nan said...


Anonymous said...

Sounds like this theater needs a better policy or set of procedures for dealing with visitors with disabilities. One item that comes to mind is a need to have a policy that seats reserved by patrons with disabilities are "locked in"--ie, cannot be reassigned unless the disabled patron him/her/themself request it.

I have always been puzzled why some theaters claim box seats are supposed to be the "best." As a deaf person, I strongly prefer to have a close view of the stage: I'm already missing the auditory input (even an interpreter or captions can only tell me what is being said--but I can't watch them while simultaneously watching the action, and will still miss out on the music). Thus, I want to maximize what I can gain via the visual "channel"--meaning, I want a good view to make up for what I will inevitably miss otherwise. Since I already can't hear ... if I then also end up with a really lousy view, then what's the point of me being in the theatre at all?

One theater in DC only has the sign language interpreter available in one of the box seats on the upper level--so either you're in the same box with the intepreter, in which case you have only a partial view of the stage (because this particular box is on the side), or else you are seated in another box in which you can see the whole stage (albeit at a bit of a distance) and can still see the interpreter, but it will be more wearying on the eyes to watch them interpret because they'll be further away. Oh, and both options are the very most expensive seats in the theater, with no automatic discount for disabled visitors (unless you reserve a very limited number of them ages and ages in advance, before any one knows which performances will have a sign language interpreter!). You can have a cheaper seat with a more close up view of the stage but won't be able to see an interpreter from there.

I wish more theaters would

1. Understand that many access needs are absolute--if the customer can't have the particular seat (or service) they ask for they can't participate at all. I've had theater staff try to tell me that I'm not entitled to a discount because they're not forcing me to choose the more expensive seats. If these are the only seats from which I can have communication access then, yes, you ARE forcing me to choose either expensive seats or none at all.
2. Disabled customers are as important as any other customer, end of.

Andrea S.

Anonymous said...

That this happened, not once but twice, at the National Ballet of Canada shocks me.

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

Can I tweet this, Dave? Have you sent the NB of C a link here? If not, please do.

Once is bad enough, but twice? Twice is...inexcusable. Utterly inexusable.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Belly, I called the National Ballet of Canada to tell them what had happened and to let them know that I was going to write about it here. They have an earlier draft of this blog, and I'm told they will get back to me. You may tweet as you wish, this is true for all my blog postings. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

Dave - my first reaction, ok my second reaction, the first being upset for you, was your comment about Ruby watching you. It struck me that your reaction and that of Joe's would be much more of a "life lesson" than the treatment of those with disabilities for Ruby. She probably doesn't view you as disabled - you are Dave sitting down. Yet - she would know when you are upset and would learn how you problem solve and treat others. Funny how that jumped out at me through the "steam" of frustration. I'm sure the teacher in you takes every opportunity to mirror appropriate behavior to such a young and impressionable mind. We all need a Ruby!

Anonymous said...

As with the hotel situation - you never really give the reason why. Why were the seats taken away? Were they given to someone else? Did you see someone sitting in them? Or were they closed for safety reasons and the box office failed to mark those seats as closed? Not that any of those "excuses/reasons" make up for the disappointment or frustration - but I find usually there are 2 sides to every situation.

No doubt businesses do see those with disabilities as a "problem" as accomodating them adds expense. Thank goodness there are laws that uphold access - and let us keep pushing forward. Our money is as good as anyone's - and we deserve the richness of the arts. Good luck with educating the NB of C.

wheeliecrone said...

Yes, Dave. It is exhausting. The business of never being able to have confidence that organisations will operate appropriately.
And why should you have to worry about getting the seats that you booked and paid for?
Why does the fact that you use a wheelchair negate the responsibility of the ballet theatre or any other organisation when they arbitrarily change your arrangements without consultation and permission from you - the paying customer? Paying customers don't have to put up with that manure.
I don't know about you, Dave but I suspect that you don't use a wheelchair in order to make other people's lives difficult.
Discrimination is discrimination, even when it has a smile on it's face, an apology on its lips and tells you that it "understands".

Ettina said...

With regards to Ruby, you have nothing to worry about. She has made it very clear that she understands disability rights extremely well, and knows that everyone deserves to be included. Given all the Ruby stories I've read on this blog, it's pretty much unimaginable that she would ever think the problem lies with your disability.

Shan said...

I disagree with Ettina - I think the day will come when Ruby WILL think to herself, "If Dave weren't here this would be easier."

Probably not until she's 10 or more, but it will happen.

And that's because when children grow up, they see complicated questions more fully. And instead of it being simply 'not fair', or whatever she's thinking now, she'll realise 'this never happens unless Dave's around.' It's just part of growing up and you shouldn't wish it away.

But try not to worry about it for the time being. You lay the groundwork now, and then when she is older and these questions arise, she will struggle with her feelings for a while, and probably experience some guilt over them, and then she'll remember everything she's learned and will make the right decisions about her feelings and actions.

That's what It's all for...all the time spent, all the songs sung and the tears kissed away and the long boring, muddled, childish stories listened to. All that stuff gets added to the "good" side of the scales and when she gets around to weighing things, it's still there and it all counts.