Working with Park Theatre on their first Relaxed Performance

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 20.34.05Include Arts partnered with Park Theatre and the creative team behind The Busker’s Opera to produce what was both the venue’s and the show’s first Relaxed Performance (RP) on 2nd June 2016.  This high-energy show – described by The Stage as ‘A spirited new British musical that is full of great songs’ – was a perfect choice for a Relaxed Performance, offering the audience a diverse range of songs and lots of movement on stage.  As specialist consultants, we were brought in to support the staff and cast through their first RP by providing:  Staff Training, Advice on adapting the environment to be more accessible and a Visual Story.  A Visual Story is a document which provides information about the show and the venue, in a format which is more accessible for people who have learning disabilities and, well, everyone!  There were some changes made to the show for this RP but they were very few, as Include Arts’ Lucy explains,

‘RP’s are not intended to change the nature of the show but to provide access for people who would otherwise find it difficult to attend, so although we worked with the cast and crew to make small changes such as removing strobe lighting, we kept the show basically the same as for any other audience’

File_000On the day we met staff from the venue and the company at a series of short briefings, intended to provide the most important information on what to expect from an RP, how it might affect the usual working day in the building and how best to support the needs of the audience attending.  We were pleased to attract a diverse range of people to this show including people with dementia, autism, a young baby, people with anxiety issues, disabled and non-disabled patrons.  All of these people actively selected the RP as a way of accessing the show in an environment that would be more suited to their needs than a regular performance. 

The Front of House staff (disabled and non-disabled volunteers) were all exceptionally professional and dedicated to making this RP the best experience it could be, particularly as they knew this would be the first time at the theatre for some of the audience and we don’t want it to be their last.  The atmosphere during the show was great, the small but engaged audience loved the show, with one member up dancing and clapping to every song.  The cast played the show as they normally would, but the slight changes to light and sound meant that no one felt they needed to leave or became stressed and our lovely Chill-Out area was not very well-used!  We received instant positive feedback; an  audience member who attended the show with her adult son who is on the autism spectrum said, 

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Thank you very much for creating this afternoon’s event…my son and I loved seeing The Buskers Opera. It’s a fantastic show with a super-clever script, catchy songs and my son laughed all the way home as he’d really enjoyed himself.  Theatre has been a lifeline for both myself and my son’

We were really proud of this feedback, grateful to the audience for giving the RP a go and proud to be part of the journey of increased access at Park Theatre and all theatres.

Next stop…the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Midsummer’s Night Dream Relaxed Performance in July.  See you there?

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Developing access across the network: Include Arts & house

In our latest blog, Kirsty Hoyle from Include Arts talks more about the access training they delivered throughout the network in February.

”It was clear from the outset that the range of venues involved in training would be very broad. This diversity brought huge strength to the sessions overall.  Throughout the training scheme all of the trainers working on the project commented on the alacrity with which training participants responded to some difficult and personal discussions around disability, access and equality so we are grateful to all who took part, listened, talked, shared and debated.  This training scheme gave the venues an opportunity to learn from their neighbours, but also a chance to promote good practice and share information on successful access initiatives.

In order to get the most use out of the time we had, we organised our sessions so that they were broad enough to look at the whole picture of access across an organisation, but also offered time and space for granularity on topics of particular relevance to the participants in any given session.  We looked at organisational commitment to access; many venues had no policy or mission statement on access and the majority agreed to return to their venues to create or improve these documents.  We feel that writing down a commitment and promoting it internally helps to strengthen intention and encourage resulting action.  The sessions also focused on hot topics of perennial discussion in theatre access:  Involuntary Noise in Auditoriums and Ticketing Policies.  A great deal of debate was had, drawing on experience from both the trainers and the venues, and we hope venues can work together to continue developing their understanding of, and response to, these issues in their venue.

The sessions contained information and discussion pertaining to Assisted Performances and most venues offer some Captioning or Audio Description.  British Sign Language Interpreted performances were not as widely programmed but there was a definite interest in Relaxed Performances, with the majority of venues currently programming them, or on the journey.  However, Assisted Performances are only a small part of being an accessible venue and we saw some great examples of how venues were offering access outside of Assisted Performances including: a scheme which provides tickets and opportunities for homeless people, a stair walker which provides physical access to an otherwise inaccessible space, Agent for Change scheme, co-productions of work featuring disabled artists and strong relationships with community groups and charities supporting people with additional needs.

During the training sessions we asked the participants what some of their main issues were around providing access.  The responses were variations on a theme and can be crudely grouped as follows:  Cost, Strategic Scheduling, Ticketing Policy, Internal Skill Base, Quality Assurance and Collaboration.  There was a real appetite for collaboration, for moving forward together in partnership with other venues to engage stakeholders.  For example, one region decided to approach local charities to ask for support with marketing Assisted Performances as a cohort, rather than fight for these audiences individually, which will be hugely effective.    We also hope to see two of the most popular ideas from the training come to fruition; Regional Clash Diaries for Assisted Performances and an on-going shared Access Training programme.

I am excited to see the development of accessible venues across the house network, to increase the diversity of audiences but also to highlight the creative benefits of access.  The conversations started in this training scheme should kick-start a sea change in access to the arts for disabled patrons in the South East, and will be an opportunity to share good and developing practice.  We are grateful to house for arranging this unique opportunity for all the venues and hope some fires were lit which won’t easily be put out.  We should never stop asking:  Who’s not here?  Why not?  How do I change that?.”

Kirsty Hoyle. Director, Include Arts