Access to Theatre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Access to theatre for those with physical and mental needs seems to be on a positive increase. Recently we heard that The Prince Edward Theatre in London, currently home to Disney’s Aladdin has just received an award from being An Autism Friendly Theatre. This is wonderful news considering that for some who work in the industry there are issues surrounding pay and working condition.

But there’s another group of people beginning to benefit both on and off stage and that is deaf or people that are heard of hearing. With a population that sees 1 in 6 people having some sort of hearing issue with it expected to be around 15.6 million by 2035 I think this can be seen as good news.

As a hearing aid wearer myself I wrote my own experiences of living in a deaf world which you can check out by clicking here.

One of the best bits of technology ever invented to work in conjunction with hearing aids in a universal environment is known as the induction loop system. For those of you who don’t know what this is, if you go into most public buildings you may see a sign like this:

It basically means that the hearing aid wearers can change the program on their hearing aids, usually by just pressing a button and then I suppose the best way to describe is, that it works in the same way as Bluetooth. All hearing aids tune into this frequency and it cuts all the background noise to concentrates the user’s hearing on the voice(s) in front of them. So in theatre’s this means the noise of people commenting and the crumpling of packets are all cut out and wearers can only her  what’s on the stage and sounds of the performance.

The technology of these systems are improving all the time, with new systems coming out where users can tailor their experience to their own needs just by using their smart phone.

Also for theatre there has been a development in installed screens, projectors and tablets for members of the audience that are hard of hearing to read captions of what’s being said onstage, very much like the television’s subtitles. You can see more about this project by clicking here.

And of course there’s the ‘old fashion’ signing being employed at many performances these days. Personally I am not a sign user but I think it’s an incredible skill and even some of the biggest events in the world use it, for example the Olympics and not just for Paralympics use signing for the duration of the events. Do you remember back in 2000 at Sydney’s opening ceremony? As they sang the Olympic song for that year ‘Under the Southern Skies’ the chorus of that song saw the entire cast use sign language, you can check it out here on YouTube.

But now access to on stage and behind the scenes for those with hearing related problems are being developed by Deafinitely Theatre who have set up a new programme called The Hub, which is aimed to encourage training for deaf and hard of hearing talent to help them into mainstream theatre.

Currently the only place that offers any kind of specific course for deaf people in the arts is Scotland’s Royal Conservatoire. The Hub has been designed with a variety of workshops that cover many aspects of theatre including acting, writing and even stage management.

The courses are twelve months long with an additional two year one-on-one mentorship for participants. Long term The Hub hopes to establish full time courses for deaf people across the UK. The Hub is currently funded by Arts Council of England and partners with City Lit, RADA and London’s Royal Court Theatre.

You can find out more about The Hub by clicking here.

Food and Drink Strictly Prohibited

Recently the English National Opera banned patrons from bringing their own food and drink to shows in their home at The London Coliseum. This seems be a common practise now in many theatres and cinemas, but is really necessary?

I would have agreed with the idea until the theatre’s statement about this matter reasoned their decision with the fact that patrons are ‘picnicking’ and ‘swapping water for gin and vodka’, erm come again?

I don’t know of anyone who has brought their full lunch into a theatre, and as for the gin and vodka well that can be bought from the theatres own bar, but surely to bring a half litre and consume it in 2 hours would be lethal to anyone’s body.

Now I am not saying that it doesn’t happen that people bring more food in then is normally acceptable nor am I saying people wouldn’t bring in booze and when people this it is right to condemn the practise. But at the same time going to a theatre can be expensive enough with just the ticket let alone an interval drink and some sweets.

Whilst theatres like every other business are trying to make a profit to survive at the same time they need to remain sensible, finding the balance to keep patrons coming back during a down turn in the economy and making a stainable profit to keep going.

So bearing in mind that most theatres have some sort of funding arrangement, whether that be grants or commercial support the beverages and confectioner which is sold during a performance are all aimed to help support the actual building as the performance usually funded separately.

So the audience should have the consideration that theatres need every penny it can get to ensure that is still standing so they keep producing performances. But at the time theatre operators need to accept that it is only a small amount of patron that do bring food and drink to performances and these would probably be the patrons that wouldn’t have bought anything on site anyway.

We also have to remember that theatre for many is not a luxury, they may have saved up for the tickets over a long period so for them having to save up for the extra beverage which they have no idea how much it will cost could be the difference between seeing a show and it closing before they have had a chance to see it.

If a theatre really wants to see patrons stop being their own food and drink they need to use more than signs that people only see when they turn up at the door on the night and find they are being asked to throw their own stuff away and buy what’s on site, the only thought there is ‘greedy theatre!’. It needs to be on tickets and clearly on pages where the performance information is found. It has to be about educating a new generation of people about the etiquette of theatre, as some may never have passed the threshold into a theatre before and it’s these you need to hold on too.

So to retain patrons there needs to be some grace when people make mistakes. As long as the bottle is sealed or there is limitation on the food that is brought, maybe just one bag of sweets, then a polite conversation to educate them in prep for their next visit should be good enough, making it all smoother and pleasant experience. Those new patrons may even be go away and educate others making the issue almost clear up on its own rather than warning other potential patrons not to go the theatre as they are nothing but greedy only allowing you to buy their expensive food on site.

Ambassadors for the Industry

I thought this week I would write about something more positive then my usual posts, something that is encouraging and enlightening young people into the creative part of the industry. We hear a lot about young people wanting to go into singing, dancing and acting and there’s a lot of support for these dreams, but not very often do we hear of projects and programmes to inspire them into a career backstage.

In June 2017 The Society of London Theatres (SOLT) and UK Theatres commissioned a major piece of research called Workforce Review of the Offstage Theatre and Performing Arts Sector. This report explored what the UK backstage looks like and how it will look in the future. (Click here to read the report)

As a result of this report a new ambassador program was created, SOLT and UK Theatres have partnered with the charity Inspiring The Future and it will be officially launched this project on the 11th July 2018 with a series of events for young people across the county to inspire and educate them about careers in backstage theatre.

Since the registration for ambassadors opened in the April 2018there have been over 500 candidates sign up to be an inspiration for young people, these include artistic directors, costume cutters, lighting designers, prop master and even producers. The aim is to give young people a taste of the full spectrum of the diverse jobs available within the industry. The project is also about strengthening and encouraging the links between schools and theatres across the country and close the skill gap by encouraging access to the arts and culture industry.

If you would like to sign up to an ambassador then please click here for more information.

More information about the program and project can be found at the Inspire the future website:

Use hashtag: #inspiringfuturetheatre to see updates on social media.

Lighting with the EU

Like most industries, theatre knows that it has to become greener and reduce its carbon footprints, without the need for someone to tell them, let alone have a laws made with an unreasonable time frames put in place to make it happen sooner.

But out of all the environmental carbon footprints that theatres produce lighting accounts for just 5% of the total usage, so it makes no sense to put pressure on the 5% over the other 95% that also need to be dealt with, and to make matter worse this small amount is by far the most expensive to upgrade quickly so it would surely be better to take it slowly to ensure the job is done properly plus it some of the replacements needed haven’t yet been invented and this is not because theatre is dragging it’s heals but about keeping things affordable while staying in line with industry standards. Not every theatre or creative space can afford state of the art equipment at a blink of an eye.

It is granted that lighting and it power source is the most expensive to run in a theatre so why then does the statics claim that it only accounts for no more that 5% of the total footprints used by the theatres? This is simply because it’s the length of time this equipment is used, if you think about it most performances last between two and three hours and most techs will only physically put the lights on half hour before the performance or as the audience are let into the auditorium. During creative days where lights are being focused and prepared for a performance they are only on at most a day or two.

But surely it would make more sense for the EU to deal with the power source that theatres use and those carbon footprints, which have longer lasting effect rather than the actual equipment being used? That it would then be down to the theatres themselves that would deal with the updating of equipment as ways to reduce the cost of the power being used during performance.

If legislation as it is currently written is passed in October 2018 then it would cost the creative industry over £1bn and £180m in the UK alone to have the changes completed by the 2020 deadline as it will condemns even the current most efficient lights – LEDs. So the industry would be looking at a complete new rig for each creative space, that is just not practical nor is it affordable, with no other industry having to deal with such a change it could almost be seen another nail in the coffin of the creative industry.

Things that the creative industry is doing to reduce carbon footprint in other areas of the industry the accounts of the 95%:

  • They are engaging everyone
  • The active with the 4 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle
  • Experiment and use sustainable material
  • Energy efficient
  • Design energy efficient lighting – SEE IT ALREADY IN THE AGENDA!
  • Use rechargeable batteries
  • Reduce transport
  • Recycle materials after shows
  • Monitor environment impact
  • Talk about it

On the positive side of this some of the industry’s biggest organisations have met with the EU to discuss exempting theatres from this regulation which resulted in them being charged to write the exemption for the legislation before it is passed into law in October 2018.

The Doctor Will See You Now….

Just imagine if you went to your GP with some form of welfare problem and the doctor wrote out the prescription but when you looked, instead of it being for a bottle of pills or medicine it was for you to book tickets to a show at your local theatre or to attend a creative session at a community centre, wouldn’t that be weird?

In Wales they have trailed putting the arts on prescription, in a document called Arts and Health in Wales: A Mapping Study of Current Activity claims 20% of patient visit their GP for welfare reason rather than medical problems. It was also reported that 28% of those prescribed with some sort of social activity, for example within the art reduced repeat care from GPs after 12 to 18 months.

So last month we saw Mental Health Awareness week with various news items, adverts and activities throughout the UK in an attempt to bring home to people just how important Mental Health and Wellbeing is.

Mental health is something that is often seen as a taboo topic, something we shouldn’t talk about. But it’s important and not just in the arts but in general to be out in the open, in the wider community as that’s the only way these things can be dealt with properly.

It is ironic that the creative industry is often merited for helping those with mental issues and yet the link has not been made between those in the creative industry who are not currently working and their mental health.

The arts may contribute £27bn to the UK economy a year and has an increase in jobs by 17.8%, yet it continues to struggle with unemployment, low pay and unacceptable working conditions to be at an all-time high.  What these figure don’t take into account is that most of the ‘new jobs’ are temporary lasting between a couple of months and year or two maybe so they are not counting the number of people coming out of work each year as they squeeze arts budgets, because that is how the arts industry works, people are always looking for the next job after all its freelance work.

So let’s just be clear, what exactly is mental health? It is the psychological wellbeing and functions of emotional and behavioural adjustment and recent studies have found that as many as 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from some kind of mental health issue.

In recent months Mental Health has come higher on the social agenda with all sorts of campaigns and campaigners popping up everywhere, but the attitude of those working in the arts is not helpful when it is considered not to be a ‘proper’ job, they are seen as wasters or just doing what they do for fun. Yet the same people would feel very lost if they weren’t able to enjoy music or read a novel or be able to see theatre.

A report that was conducted in 2015 in Australia showed that those in the performing arts experiences symptoms of anxiety as much as ten times higher than those in the general population and are five times more likely to suffer from depression. These are all linked to money and job insecurities alone.

The arts can be lonely, isolated and alienating, but four of the industries big organisations have set up an awesome charity ArtsMind to support those with mental health problems, so if you are working within the creative sector and you do feel your mental health is not in a good place then do reach out, it is so important that you do, it won’t be easy, you may even feel embarrassing but it can only get better by reaching out, the ArtsMind website is: