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Colin comments on DAO discussions around disability/ inclusive theatre-making / 8 March 2012

three dancers perform outdoors, covered in paint, with a large action painting in the background

Deaf Men Dancing perform 'Alive'

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DAO has published a couple of reports, recently on events about access to theatre and theatre-making. In her review on The Scottish Dance Theatre’s Pathways to the Profession Symposium, Jo Verrent concludes that the discussion at the conference “isn’t a battle for access, it’s about a critical contribution to culture.”

Putting our experience as ‘diverse’ artists, out there is a process of finding the keys held by the gatekeepers, in a climate ever more pressurized by funding restrictions.

Forging links with companies who clearly recognize the value of disability performance, like Improbable Theatre, has to be one way forward. I was knocked out by the production of No Idea by Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence that they toured in 2010.

But, will Improbable continue to work with material that explores the rich depth of experience that diversity can bring to the theatre? I've just published a well-considered and informative piece by Danny Braverman about Improbable Theatre's Devoted & Disgruntled Open Space process and what it can achieve. He talks passionately about the need to pass on information to younger practitioners: “When a young theatre-maker talked about bi-lingual work in Bengali and English I could point her towards the pioneering work at the Half Moon Young People’s Theatre 20-odd years ago.”

There was clearly a lot of discussion about opening theatre up to 'diverse' audiences and theatre practitioners. But how do we impress the value of the work on to a wider set of theatre practitioners and professionals? What it is that is holding disability theatre back in taking part in conversations and sharing experience with theatre professionals, in general?

Disability theatre, or indeed, accessible theatre isn’t breaking the ground it should be. For example in the plethora of theatre and performing arts being showcased in the Brighton Festival 2012, there is little or no consideration given to access. There are no audio-described performances programmed and I found only four shows that have BSL interpreted performances. Carousel have one outing of ‘Gold Run’ and Tin Bath Theatre’s children’s show ‘Bee Detective’ has three shows programmed.

In Brighton it seems the battle for access has stepped back a notch. Last year we had shows from Deaf Men Dancing, Graeae, Up-Stream, as well as a much wider range of BSL interpreted events, talks etc.

This year, the only disability-specific piece of theatre that has been programmed, is Chris Larner's pro-assisted suicide piece, An Instinct for Kindness. Do I detect that the gate-keepers want us to go away, or is that simply paranoia setting in?


beth house

12 March 2012

If inclusivity is to be fully acheived, we need to see festivals such as The Brighton Festival, programming in quality pieces of theatre that just also "happen" to be inclusive. There is plenty out there! Hijinx Theatre in Cardiff hosts an annual festival celebrating the best in inclusive arts- it's on in June this year from 21st to 30th and they have inclusive performances from amazing companies from all over the globe, and every event and workshop is accessible, with many being disabled lead. In addition, they programme in loads of workshops which are open to all, lead by some of the leading disabled artists/ organisations. I don't think it is enough to bung in a BSL interpretation of one show here and there- festival bookers need to look at organisations who create theatre that is intrinsically accessible and inclusive.

beth house

12 March 2012

PS it's called The Unity Festival


19 March 2012

Spot on! How do Brighton Festival expect to attract a national (international) audience if they are excluding so many people by not thinking about simple access possibilities?


20 March 2012

Brighton Festival is presenting Gold Run on Monday 21 May at 6pm. It's a performance with music, film and sculpture, created and performed by people with learning disabilities. It will be sign language interpreted and has surtitles throughout. The Corn Exchange is fully accessible. Check it out!

Also, the fabulous Spymonkey have an interpreted performance of Oedipussy at the festival on May 15.