Year on year Brighton Festival are making progress with small but important steps in improving the festival’s access offer and are gradually diversifying their audiences. Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival’s Theatre Producer Orla Flanagan talks to DAO about some of the festival’s outcomes, spurred, in part by engagement with Unlimited.
2015 was an important year for Brighton Festival in terms of access. With the support of Unlimited we were able to train some of our stewarding team, which helped us manage audio described performances in advance of last year’s festival. We were also able to offer more audio described performances and a number of touch tours.
The Festival team presents work in the Brighton Dome throughout the year. And so this input from Unlimited has prompted us to increase the offer in the year-round programme for BSL, touch tours, audio description and relaxed performances.
Recommendations from Unlimited included advising us to increase the font size in our brochure and looking at how we present the access offer in print, working in a more targeted way at reaching audiences for these provisions. We did our first audio-described performance in the Brighton Dome with Into the Hoods last March, and the take up was great.
Technology is developing fast, and we are also trying to keep abreast of new opportunities – so this year with The Encounter by Complicite we are trialing a new form of captioning through handheld devices.
We are also piloting the beginning of an artist development programme with the formidable artists Sue MacLaine and Nadia Nadarajah to support a small network of deaf and hearing impaired artists to intensively experience a range of cross art form shows.
We have got better at communicating about the range of access offers we have. Since last year several individuals from the deaf and hard of hearing community have joined the Brighton Dome & Festival’s Membership scheme, which is a reflection of the positive steps we are taking.
Since 2012 we have engaged more with the deaf community through Our Space meetings (organised by DeafCOG). The group have made great recommendations and asked questions about our programming that has really helped me to understand further about the communities’ needs and passions.
Collaborating with Nadia Nadarajah to produce a BSL-interpreted version of our Brighton Festival highlights video this year has been hugely valuable.
We are a charter venue with Attitude is Everything who have fed back on how we are faring, having awarded us a Bronze Award. This input helps us to ensure our goals are realistic and in tune with the wider arts ecology. Training of staff is certainly an essential ingredient. We had some training recently around Relaxed Performances, which was provided by our circus friends Crying Out Loud, prior to presenting a family circus show.
I have learnt to look for new ways for shows to be accessed by new audiences – Jo Verrent from Unlimited is a big believer in this – and has made me realise that a lot of shows are already more accessible than we present them. It is often a matter of pointing out the features of the performance, be it that it is highly visual with no text etc, to provide the information so that people can make up their mind if it’s for them.
The final ingredient that is critical is the positive experience at the live performance, and as a staff team we are aware that a warm welcome is key to our audiences returning, which we hope they continue to do.
I have learned that every goal set around improving our access is a small step in the right direction. Allocating the budget to implement the steps of our Equality and Diversity Action Plan is important – as well as making sure that goals correlate with the experiences of our audiences, and the potential audiences that we hope to meet.
We have lots more progress to make, but after nearly five festivals in Brighton I am very encouraged and positive that these steps can amount to significant change.
This year we have programmed three films produced as part of the Unlimited commissioning programme to be shown in the Brighton Dome Cafe Bar. Please click on this link for further details.
In tandem with Brighton Festival, HOUSE is a contemporary visual arts festival, which takes place every Spring. This year Thompson Hall has been co-commissioned by HOUSE and Outside In to produce a new series of paintings entitled Home Away From Home in response to the Brighton Festival’s 2016 theme of home and place. For the exhibition Thompson will show a series of paintings about the difference between being in London and Brighton, inspired by the artists feelings about the two places. Thompson is an ActionSpace artist an organisation that supports the development of artists with learning disabilities. Please click on this link for further details.