Accessibility Week!

“Access is a basic right and requirement, a continually evolving methodology that enhances the theatrical and professional landscape; accessibility enables theatre practitioners and audiences to create, engage with and enjoy our work.”

–  Graeae Theatre Company

When we founded Helicon Storytelling, we agreed that we believe stories are for everyone and storytelling should be too. We made a commitment that all our shows would be as accessible as we could possibly make them (within the limitations of our abilities, finances and knowledge). We would like to preface this post by saying that we are definitely not the experts – we simply wanted to share our experiences, as a young company, of trying to make our debut show, The Battle of Frogs and Mice, accessible. We are still learning about accessibility and we welcome any feedback, questions or suggestions you might have – contact us here! If you’re interested in learning more about creative access, we’ve put some links to some of the resources we’ve been recommended and/or found really useful at the end of this post .

Some of our biggest inspirations were Graeae and Birds of Paradise, theatre companies leading the charge for accessible arts. Birds of Paradise define creative access as

…work that imaginatively embeds a range of tools, such as audio description, captioning and sign language from the very beginning of the artistic process.

This is a definition that really appeals to us; when we decided that accessibility would be a priority in all our shows, we also decided that we needed to go about it in the right way. It could never be just a tick in a box, we needed to do the research and think through our artistic and practical decisions. Access considerations would be integral to how we created our shows and would be incorporated from day one of that process.

To this end, we wanted to make sure we could do this intention justice. For example, inspired by seeing a BSL Captioned performance of Stolen by The Devils Violin in Cardiff in late 2017, we were very keen to make The Battle of Frogs and Mice fully BSL captioned. But after doing some research and speaking to people with more knowledge and experience, we realised we did not have the skillset, nor the time, nor funding to make that project feasible. At that point, we began to look at other ways to make the show accessible.


An excerpt of our Easy-Read Guide

We opted for relaxed performances with an Easy Read Guide, and a quiet-zone away from the action. Looking back, we could have done more – even simple things: we should have made the guide available to download from our website and venue listing in advance; we could have made a video summary of the show with captions; we could even have made a video explaining the easiest accessible route to our performance venue. These are all things we will work towards doing for future runs of The Battle of Frogs and Mice, and any new shows.

We do have an advantage in that Storytelling is an inherently flexible medium. Additionally, since we’re improvising our story we can incorporate and adapt the show to each individual audience. It’s also a medium that suits unconventional theatre spaces – we performed at Assembly Roxy’s Snug Bar at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The space is primarily used as an overspill bar, so it had more than enough room for a quiet-zone and it already had a relaxed vibe with comfy seating. We applied to this space in particular because it did not have any technical facilities and we had already decided not to use any blackouts in the show, which can be distracting for people with sensory impairments. Instead, we ensured that scenes could move smoothly into different settings using the language and structure of the show itself. This was out attempt to ensure accessibility was taken into consideration as a part of our artistic process.


The Snug Bar – you can just about see the sofas and other comfy seating!

Of course, much of what you can do comes down to your venue. We were one of only two shows in the Snug space, which meant (unusually for Edinburgh), we had a long get-in time where we could let members of the audience to sit in the space as we warmed up. This allowed them to get used to things like the volume of the music and the lighting level. However the space has its drawbacks too as it wasn’t wheelchair accessible, which we found quite frustrating.

More and more venues are committing to making themselves accessible, and this can be easily included in your considerations when choosing a venue to perform in. By making accessibility a priority, there are many things even new theatre companies like us can do to allow everyone to enjoy our shows.


We make sure all our videos are captioned

Some of the accessibility choices we made related to the company itself rather than our artistic creations – things like ensuring we use a sans serif font on all our documentation, even this website, because it’s easier for dyslexic readers to differentiate between characters, or making sure we caption any videos we put out.


The Social Model of Disability vs the Medical Model

There’s lots more to say about this topic, but the last thing we want to talk about on this blog post is the social model of disability. This is the idea that a person is disabled by society rather than their individual impairment or condition. Graeae offer the following example of the Social Model of Disability:

A train station with information boards but no audio announcements prevents a blind passenger from receiving information that everyone else can access. This situation disables that passenger, not the fact that they’re blind.

We believe that theatre shows are capable of being accessible to everyone, and every theatre company can do something to make their show more accessible. If you’re interested in accessibility, we would recommend checking out the following websites and companies for more information!


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