So, earlier this fall, I had the honour and privilege to attend a showing of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the National Arts Center (NAC) in Ottawa. I was super excited about this. And I tried to keep in mind the positive aspects that came with that night. Taking the good with the bad, one would say.
The tickets were a little expensive… But it’s so rare that Phantom is in town, so totally worth it.
My original date cancelled and I was unable to find someone willing to buy the extra ticket… But my 11 year old niece was happy to attend. (Even if she didn’t repay me the ticket, oops)
I was black and blue as a result of an e-bike crash that week… But I was finally out of bed and able to walk again.
Overall, it promised to be an exciting adventure, and I was really looking forward to seeing my favourite musical live on stage.
Me niece looked absolutely adorable and precious. I had drinks and snacks. We were OUT ON THE TOWN!!!
But the evening didn’t go quite as planned. In fact, it was probably the worst evening I’ve had in my life. You can read about it here.
Suffice to say… I was glad it was over. But I was miserable. And I felt well within my right to complain about the abhorrent behaviour of nearby people in the audience who had no ounce of compassion to give to a disabled woman, only angst, abuse, and death threats. But what can you do in such a case?
I didn’t know. And I didn’t expect anything. But it just wasn’t right, so I called the NAC. And I asked to speak with The Big Boss of customer complaints. This turned out to be a friendly man named Michael Gauthier – House Manager. We spoke on the phone, and I told him my story, as well as e-mailing him the fresh-in-my-mind blog I’d written. And in him, I heard sheer disbelief. And amazement, if one could call it that. He listened to me with compassion, as I cried on the phone, relating to him the details of a horrific experience. He actually had an unconscious moment of swearing over the phone, for which he apologized. I can’t say I blame him. I wasn’t following the guidelines of being polite myself, stuck halfway between anxiety, grief, depression, and all the negative thoughts that take over your mind. But that’s a story for another day.
Suffice to say, Michael listened. And he promised to look into the issue. Having been burned by professionals in the past, I didn’t quite believe him. And a week went by without any word from him, I felt justified in my disbelief. And then I got an e-mail from him.
He had spent the week looking into the matter, contacting people who’d sat nearby to get their side of the story, and all manner of investigations that one would do in a case such as this. In the end though, nothing could be done for the fact that my niece and I had had our evening ruined by other attendees. But perhaps, here, there was a bit of good.
He responded to me with the following:
Pick a show, any show, bring your niece or anyone else, and we’ll show you how someone with a visual impairment should be treated.
Let’s make another memory when it comes to this place.
Get back to me when you can.
Now let me be honest, my first reaction was not gratitude at the gesture, or disbelief that he would do something so kind for me. My first reaction was that I, a disabled person, could have prevented the problems by not going at all, or agreeing to LISTEN to Phantom instead of watching it, and it’s unfair to ask the NAC to give me free tickets because I had a bad evening. (Even if I didn’t ASK, I just made a complaints against other people)
It took me 4 days to muster up the nerve to write him back to thank him for the offer. And to be truthful, it took me 4 days to find a way for my brain to accept this gesture. And I only managed to do so because of someone else. My niece deserved a good evening at the theatre. And if I accepted this, rather than boycotting the NAC for the rest of my life, I could provide her with that positive evening, and it would be a good Christmas present too. So I responded, filled with guilt, because I didn’t feel I deserved a free show, and also, I couldn’t navigate the page, I couldn’t find the show listings, essentially, my central blindness was making it hell for me to follow up on this. But he was nice, responded to me in a timely manner, gave me links to work with, and told me to be in touch with him when I settled on a show. By then, it was Oct 31st.
And then he waited for me. Because I tried to get my family to go through the links, pick a show, to find something that matches my nieces schedule, and then get back to me. You have no idea how popular an 11 year old is when there are 3 parents who share custody, and everyone loves this kid. She’s just the bestest. It’s easy to see why she is busy every single weekend, with everyone clamouring for sleepovers with her. (I’m somewhat jealous, LOL).
Time went by. My anxiety grew. I pestered my mom, and my sister daily to help get this looked after. I cried. I screamed. I sent texts. I even asked nicely when my anxiety allowed it. And in my mind, I knew it. I knew that by the time we managed to pick a show my niece and I both liked, that Michael would have forgotten about me. That he’d write back to me saying I took too long, and the offer was off the table. I knew it. I expected it. I dreaded it. I was wrong. (Though I’m still super anxious about how long it took till it got done)
Finally, December 8th, we settled on A Christmas Carol, for Friday Dec 22nd if possible. It was possible. And he didn’t forget me. No fuss, no trouble. Before I could blink and say boo, tickets were in the mail, on their way to me. I was ecstatic. Overjoyed. And paranoid that Canada Post wouldn’t make it on time. I got the tickets. And I wrote to Michael to thank him. And to ask the dreaded question.
“What can I do this time to make sure that the show isn’t a miserable experience. That I can use my phone to zoom in on the stage and be able to see that way. And I crossed my fingers, not knowing what to expect.
Primarily, I expected an answer along the lines of “Speak to the usher’s when you arrive, and let them know, they will speak to everyone around you.” And I would have been fine with that.
But the answer I woke up to was quite different.
I had several e-mails from him, with different seating options, and different suggestions. But the final e-mail blew me away.
We’re reserved 4 seats for you at the moment in Row M (23 through 29). We did that for a couple of reasons: 1) we want you to have some space on either side of you: and 2) they are empty seats in the row in front of you (Row L), further limiting the number of people. [and 3: M is the last row in the Orchestra, making sure there is no-one behind me to be bothered by the glare of my phone]
Well… On the bad side, I started off my day crying. On the good side, it was out of relief and gratitude, (and a bit of guilt at the trouble I’ve caused.)
The show is tomorrow night. Transportation for my niece is arranged. If she’s early enough we might have supper first. And we don’t have to worry about people behind us kicking our seats, using our heads as foot stools, or the people to our sides complaining. (And we are free from trafic in the front too!)
My NAC experience so far has been on a love/hate level, and you can’t really blame me.
Expensive tickets – Phantom was FINALLY in Ottawa (This is rare!)
Date cancelled – Niece was thrilled to go with me.
I was all black and blue – I was able to walk for the first time that week.
The evening was horrible – My complaints were taken seriously.
Despite the onslaught of paperwork, phone calls, and e-mails that resulted from thie horrible experience, Michael Gauthier, The NAC House Manager went out of his way to go above and beyond to help make things right.
I am really looking forward to the show tomorrow night.
I don’t have to worry about last minute transportation.
I don’t have to worry about people around us harassing us.
I get to dress up and not be ashamed of my gorilla-elephant legs.
I get another evening out with my niece.
And perhaps, just perhaps, tomorrow will help restore my faith in the human race, something that I have been sorely lacking in the last few years.
And hey, if all goes wrong, as least I have the knowledge that I was able to so vibrantly describe my experience that I made the Top Dog of the NAC lose his cool and swear on the phone.
I can laugh at that one, right?