Thoughts about things I've done and news about what I'm going to do.

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An irregularly updated blog (mostly) about theatre.

  • Why accessible performance matters 26 July 2018 | View comments

  • Adventurers Wanted starts a week today. We’re doing another marathon-style show at Edinburgh Fringe (albeit only 100hrs this year, rather than last year’s sanity-stretching 250hrs…) - a show that’s simultaneously unwieldy, stressful, difficult to describe, and joyful, heartening and inspiring. There are so many things I could say about the show, but right now I want to talk about one specific thing: access.

     

    Adventurers Wanted was born of a very idealistic vision - of people telling stories together in some supportive, creative, warm and collaborative utopia, that would be devoid of stress and simply happen with the force of positive thinking. It did manage to be some of those things - an overwhelming number of last year’s hours felt like a tribe forming around a shared interest and goal, bonding and having somewhere welcoming to play with each other.

     

    It’s important to me that Adventurers Wanted is as accessible as possible - from keeping ticket prices low (£5 max), to livestreaming the show (for people who simply can’t be in Edinburgh), to providing a BSL-interpreted hour each day, to making the show naturally accessible for audio description users, to having relaxed performances, to having braille dice and screenreader-compatible character sheets if a blind or visually impaired person wants to play - and so on. 

     

    I could list the different things access means to me, its definitions, or how we make it work for our Fringe shows - but right now I want to say why it matters to me. Because I’ve spoken to people over the past year and some of the conversations - from people who said of last year’s all-relaxed-performances-show* ‘do you really need that many?’, to others who’ve said of our spend on BSL interpreters ‘I would never have thought to budget for that’ - have shown how far standard practice is from putting access front and centre. And I think that’s exactly where it should be.

     

    I’m aware of privileges upon privileges upon privileges when I say that theatre has never felt inaccessible to me. My parents were able/willing to pay for Saturday drama classes, I went to schools where drama - from classes to school plays to theatre trips - was a significant part of the curriculum, I was regularly taken to the local Theatre Royal when I was younger, even if I haven’t always been watching women onstage, people in shows have more often than not looked like me, I’ve never had any access needs that a typical show doesn’t meet - and so on. 

     

    [The closest theatre’s come to feeling inaccessible to me, or excluding me, is West End-level ticket prices (I simply see more Fringe theatre, and can afford an annual spend on a pricey ticket if I really want) and the sense of bisexuality being invisible onstage. But I count those as pretty damn minor in the overall scheme of things.]

     

    Theatre has always been, for me, somewhere to go and have fun, see stories, explore feelings and ideas, to watch or participate in, to relax and enjoy yourself, to watch characters and imagine yourself in their place, to empathise with people. And my life has been better for having that. It seems saccharine and sentimental as I type it (and I’m massively averse to the saccharine and the sentimental), but it’s true.

     

    That is, largely, why I hate the thought that theatre is not that for so many people. It excludes them - whether that’s by making work that they can’t enjoy because there isn’t BSL or subtitling or audio description, or because the ticket price is so high that there’s no way (especially on top of transport and other related costs) they can afford it, or because theatre spaces themselves have not been buildings in which they’ve been made to feel welcome and comfortable and at ease. Fundamentally, it excludes them because it’s not been made (the production, the building, the choices on programming, etc) with them in mind. 

     

    I am not pretending or claiming Adventurers Wanted is perfect in this regard - our Edinburgh shows are currently far more accessible than our London shows; we don’t currently offer subtitles because costs meant we made a decision on what to offer for hearing-impaired or deaf audiences (subtitles or BSL); in terms of people not feeling excluded by seeing themselves onstage, our team and extended player network is not as diverse as we want to be. But we are constantly thinking about these things. We provide what we can and we look for where we’re currently falling short and where we can ensure as many people as possible can have access to, and enjoy, the show. And it gives me joy to learn of new ways to do this and meet more people who want to do this and welcome ever-more people into the game.

     

    I’m aware, whilst writing this - I’m a white, middle class person who doesn’t identify as disabled. I am not trying to be a mouthpiece or spokesperson for people who benefit from accessible work - I don’t want to stand in front of them or try to replace them in conversation. I just wanted to get down in writing why I think this matters and I want to see more happen to make shows accessible - in the many different ways that that can happen.

    [What'll help more accessible work happen is if the accessible work that exists is supported - you can use the Fringe site to search for them, but to kick it off...]

    Click here for shows with relaxed performances.

    Click here for shows with audio description.

    Click here for shows with captioning.

    Click here for shows with BSL interpretation.

    Click here for shows with hearing loops.

    Click here for shows in wheelchair accessible venues with wheelchair accessible toilets.

    Click here for shows that are accessible to non-English speakers.


     

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