Sarah McPartlan & Robin Kelly explain how Bromley Players embraces relaxed performances
Like many theatre companies, both amateur and professional, Bromley Players searches for ways to make its productions as inclusive as possible. One method of achieving this is to take performances to those who may not otherwise be able to attend. For the last six years BP has been supporting the local Demelza Hospice by going in a few weeks prior to scheduled shows (if appropriate) to perform several extracts for the children in the hospice.
Bromley Players currently performs regularly at Eltham’s Bob Hope Theatre, a venue which is fully accessible for physically disabled patrons. But what possibilities remain to do something more for those patrons with varying levels of disability that are perhaps not currently catered for at venues? An extended run for the society’s upcoming production of Shrek (twelve rather than the usual five) could present some flexibility in trying to achieve this.
Sarah Howard, friend to Bromley Players, is responsible for accessibility at North London’s busy Park Theatre. After talking through various options with her, Bromley Players settled on the idea of producing a ‘relaxed’ performance.
What is A Relaxed Performance?
For those not familiar with the term, a relaxed performance is a specially adapted performance of a stage show, modified for adults and children who might benefit from a more comfortable environment. Typically, they are for people who have autism, sensory communication or learning difficulties. Such shows and their lead-ups are different in these ways:
- Ahead of the show a detailed booklet is sent out to all those who have booked tickets featuring information about the theatre itself, a breakdown of the story (so there are no surprises) and a look at all of the characters in the show.
- A chill-out space is available in the theatre on the day.
- An above average level of noise is expected from the auditorium during the show and there is no pressure on audience members to suppress this. Audiences can also come and go as they choose throughout the show.
- Not all seats are sold which means audience members can move around with more ease.
House lights are kept up, or at least partly up.
- The volume of the performance onstage is lowered.
- Any loud or sudden noises during the onstage performance are removed.
Why Accessibility is Important, some less-than-obvious issues:
One in five people are disabled in some way. There are some disabilities that are far from obvious which can lead to conventional performances remaining inaccessible to a significant number of potential patrons.
Making theatre accessible creates the potential for a whole new audience. The arts can often be an escape as well as a powerful educational tool. (The message of Shrek seemed particularly pertinent with the whole show being about acceptance and inclusivity.)
Often, amateur theatre is centred in the community and, therefore, making performances accessible has possibly even bigger resonance than professional shows.
A few things to consider WHEN Putting on a Relaxed Performance:
Can you afford to NOT to sell every seat?
Bromley Players decided to raise funds in order to cover the cost of any unsold tickets. A collection by community choir Local Vocals, raising £500, went some way to covering the shortfall.
Do you have the in-house skills to design the booklet that needs to be sent out?
Luckily, within its membership Bromley Players has such skills. But if your society doesn’t, is there someone else you could approach?
If your society hires a theatre for performances, is it supportive?
Bromley Players got the Bob Hope Theatre on board at an early stage. As a result, the venue agreed to reduce the respective hire fee for such a charity event (again, this helps cover the cost of unsold seats). Bob Hope Theatre also confirmed that its front-of-house volunteer staff for that performance would attend training that the aforementioned Sarah Howard was running for BP’s cast and front of house volunteers for Shrek.
Are the technical team behind it, and do they have the time, prior to the performance, to sympathetically re-programme some of the lighting?
With the support of the Bob Hope Theatre and its own lighting designer, James Shaw, BP has now set aside the morning of the day of the performance for this very purpose.
Is it financially viable to offer complimentary tickets to carers?
Unable to bear the entire cost involved in putting on the scheduled relaxed performance, due to the large show-budget, to make the show as accessible to as many people as possible (and offer something for all the unsung and heroic carers) a Just Giving page has also been set up which allows people to sponsor a carer seat; visit: justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Bromley-players-shrek.
Promotion / social media:
There is little point in putting on a rel-axed performance if your target audience does not know about it, especially if you have not previously reached out in this way.
After several Facebook posts in a number of local group pages, Bromley Players found the local community were incredibly supportive of the idea and assisted greatly with sharing and spreading the news. The traditional printed flyer has also been a brilliant way to go! Through the power of social media and a bit of internet trawling BP has been able to identify and contact various groups that the relaxed performance may be relevant to, with many kind group leaders agreeing to take flyers and pass them out to group members as well as families and friends.
Other Types of Accessible Performance:
It may also help other amateur companies to discuss the complete spectrum of accessible performances. All of these were discussed between BP and Sarah Howard in trying to decide how best to help the local Eltham community:
Signed / interpreted performance.
Relaxed performances aimed at those suffering with Dementia.
Shrek is on at the Bob Hope Theatre from the 9th – 18th April with the ‘Relaxed Performance’ held at 2:30pm on the 13th April.
Tickets for the relaxed performance (and all other performances) can be purchased through www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/eltham/bob-hope-theatre. For those wanting more info on putting on a relaxed performance Bromley Players would be more than happy to discuss this. Please contact: email@example.com