LONDON — Before the pandemic hit Britain last year, Michelle Hedley could only go to her local theaters in the north of England if they happened to be doing a captioned performance.
That happened five times a year — at best, said Hedley, who is deaf.
But during the pandemic, suddenly, she could watch musicals all day and night if she wanted, as shuttered theaters worldwide put shows online, often with subtitles. “I started watching anything and everything simply because I could!” Hedley, 49, said in an email interview. “Even subject matters that bored me!”
“I viewed more theater than I had done (it felt like) in a lifetime,” she added.
22 percent of England’s population and have diverse requirements — such as wheelchair access, audio description or for “relaxed” performances where audiences are allowed to make noise — this moment is causing more mixed reactions. Some fear being forgotten, and that struggling venues will concentrate on producing in-person shows and forgo online offerings, or cut their in-person services for disabled people.
There is little evidence of that so far, and some venues say they will continue to include disabled people, but the real effect of venues’ reduced budgets won’t become clear for months.
“I will be forced to go back to being grateful for just five shows a year,” Hedley said. “It is very frustrating.”
Others are concerned, too. “I just have this sense of being left behind with people being so euphoric that they can do things in the flesh again,” Sonia Boué, an artist who is autistic, said in a telephone interview.
Before the pandemic, Boué, 58, would only visit museums if she was convinced a show would be worth the huge amount of energy the experience took. Getting the train from her home in Oxford to London could be overwhelming, she said, as could dealing with crowds in a packed museum. “I’ve been in situations when I’ve just wanted to throw myself down on a station platform and lose it,” she said.
the painter Tracey Emin and the photographer Jo Spence, she said, with both influencing her own art. “The whole experience was so rich and wonderful,” Boué said.