Thoughts on 'Accessible Theatre' (From Lighthouse Poole's Perdie Bargh)
Being accessible and inclusive is an important and topical issue through making theatre, and in the arts in general. The benefits of engaging in the arts are well documented. Art has been said to relieve stress, to improve mental well-being and to help us form important relationships. It is a way for us to bond with one another – by discussing the things you have just experienced or simply by sharing in that experience.
All of these things benefit all of society, however, it can range from difficult to impossible for many disabled people to fully access the mainstream arts offer.
The National Deaf Children’s Society have written much on this issue, claiming that deaf children and young people are just as interested in accessing and participating in drama, dance, music and visual arts, but can often feel isolated from mainstream provision. Venues and performances are often inaccessible for D/deaf audiences, and those that are have faced criticism for being underprepared to actually provide the provisions and services they offer. When one in six people in the UK have some level of deafness and 19% of the population live with a disability, this is something that needs to change.
One way to tackle this issue is to radically rethink and question the traditional and accepted way of doing things. Inclusivity and accessibility should not be considered an ‘add on’ – but rather something that is internalised and lived throughout an entire organisation. This represents a creative challenge, which is something that (for an arts organisation) should be relished.
Collaborating with Mac’s Arcadian, a D/deaf and hearing theatre company, has been an interesting and illuminating experience. Together we have co-produced a play that is challenging, inclusive and lots of fun. The play integrates British Sign Language and is fully accessible to D/deaf and hearing audiences – but that is not its only merit. One thing we have learnt from this entire experience is that inclusive, accessible theatre should not be an ‘add on’ or considered a ‘niche’ thing that theatres offer, but should be celebrated as a creative piece much like any other.
Disabled people are significantly less likely than non-disabled people to have participated in cultural, leisure or sporting activities. Welcoming disabled people into your venue can contribute to changing this – which will have wider societal benefits.