A night out to see a show or a play is a wonderful experience, yet accessibility continues to be a problem for theatregoers with a disability. The theatre can exclude an entire community from maximising their experience whilst watching a play, merely because the production - or venue - doesn’t accommodate to their needs. Many theatres say that they’re actively working to improve accessibility, but an awful lot of them believe, whether they say it out loud or not, that a specified area for seating and ramps serve enough for disabled guests. Whilst, yes, this is better than only stairs and non-wheelchair-friendly seating, it still rejects a multitude of disabilities that go beyond requiring a wheelchair. When we ask what theatres can do to help the deaf and blind communities enjoy their night out, it becomes very easy to blame small budgets, or for them to simply shrug their shoulders and say that they’re working on it. One small theatre group, devoid of the grand budgets that many have access to, has proved that accessibility at the theatre can be done — and it doesn’t have to be expensive, either.
Taking Flight, a Welsh theatre company, work towards making theatre accessible to all, and their latest production, Peeling (by Kaite O’Reilly), is no exception. Interwoven with BSL (British Sign Language) throughout, as well as live audio description and English captions at every show, Taking Flight ensures that its shows go above and beyond to cater to all needs, not to mention its all-women crew and the cast made up of d/deaf or physically disabled women. Their aims include ‘to create high quality touring theatre and outreach projects which are diverse and inclusive; which challenge perceptions of disability and disabled people by increasing the visibility of disabled professionals in the arts’ – something that’s massively needed across the entire industry. Their innovation focuses specifically on inclusion, with Taking Flight saying that it is ‘at the heart of the creative process'.
Elishia Lemke is part of the Taking Flight team and says of the production:
“It’s so refreshing and inspiring to be a part of not only an all-women team, but an inclusive and accessibility-focused company. Whilst accessibility is slowly becoming a conversation focus within theatre, it’s rarely acted upon. Small additions like captions, sign language interpreters, audio description and touch tours can open up the world of theatre to a wider audience. It is important that these additions are implemented correctly, there have been many cases where shows claim to contain BSL sign language interpretation for example, but the interpreter has not been given enough contact time to do the show and the accessibility justice. This is why Taking Flight Theatre is so exciting within the community, it makes sure that dedicated time is given to focus on how to make a performance accessible to ALL audiences.”
Growing up with a deaf mother, nothing feels better than knowing that they too can fully participate within an audience, without having plot holes due to being too far away to lipread, or worse, sitting uncomfortably throughout with absolutely no idea what’s happening. The same goes for those with sight impairments or those living with blindness, with the live audio descriptions enhancing their experience drastically. With the consideration of captions, audio description, and the use of BSL, it opens the production up for so many more people, creating an inclusive environment that allows everyone to enjoy their evening.
So the question, I guess, is when will other, bigger productions begin to follow suit?
Click here to see dates for Peeling‘s tour, starting March 8