Relaxed Performances: Making a real difference for people with disabilities

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We’re currently working with Autism West Midlands to help provide audiences with the best possible experience of live theatre during our second relaxed performance of pantomime.

Here we invite  guest blogger Julia Begley,  Digital Community Executive at Autism West Midlands to blog about how relaxed performances in theatres and venues make a difference.

It is an exciting time for venues and visitors alike. For many families, a trip to the theatre is a yearly tradition full of fun and shared enjoyment.

Images from last year's relaxed performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Image from last year’s relaxed performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

While this is a time of excited anticipation for some families, for others going to the theatre may feel challenging. People with disabilities can sometimes feel excluded from arts venues because of fears that their needs may not be understood. Many families tell us of the worry they feel that their children’s actions will attract unkind attention. Some autistic people find visiting the theatre too overwhelming and so they do not feel able to access this valuable experience.

But relaxed performances are making a real difference to this. Relaxed performances offer reduced lighting and sound, shortened run time, visual prompts – including signs around the building, Makaton and written descriptions alongside the performance – and chill out zones where people can go to relax if they start to feel overwhelmed. These performances offer a unique chance for people with disabilities to come to the theatre, experience the fun of a performance and feel welcomed into their community:

“It was so nice to share an experience that people take for granted at Christmas – thank you.” – Parent

Paul Zerdin and guests on stage - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!

Paul Zerdin and guests on stage – from last year’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Once the relaxed performance is over, theatres can capitalise on their achievements and show themselves to be welcoming to all people with disabilities. It can be a fantastic way to introduce people to the theatre and all it has to offer. Relaxed productions can act as a stepping-stone to give people the confidence to come to other performances, including those in the standard run.

Autism West Midlands are delighted to see the progress that is being made in this field and the way that people with disabilities are being taken seriously as customers and patrons of theatres and venues. We look forward to a sustainable future for accessible performance, and our role in supporting that.

Julia Begley is co-author of Show Time: A guide to creating amazing relaxed performances for people with autism.

Jack and the Beanstalk. Birmingham Hippodrome. 18th December 2014.

The lead cast of this year’s Jack and the Beanstalk

The relaxed performance of Jack and the Beanstalk stars Jane McDonald, Duncan James, Chris Gascoyne, Gary Wilmot, Paul Zerdin and Matt Slack and takes place on Thursday 29 January at 1pm.  Call 0844 338 5000 for tickets.

For more information on Access performances at Birmingham Hippodrome click here

 

 

Roll up, Roll up for Opening Night…

Administration Assistant, Grace Morgan blogs about her first experience of a Press Night at the opening of Barnum…

Grace Morgan

Grace Morgan

Having started as an apprentice in the Box office aged 16, I now find myself on the sixth floor of Birmingham Hippodrome as Administration Assistant. Looking back to when I first started, I now feel so lucky to be involved in many theatrical goings on which recently included attending my first ever press night…

Myself and Ben Wooldridge (who works in the theatre’s press office) loaded ourselves into the car with full lunch boxes to head down to Bristol Hippodrome for opening night of BARNUM (despite the satnav taking us the longest route possible). This was my first ever experience of a press night and I was really excited, the theatre was buzzing and there were lots of people arriving. We collected our tickets and joined the press reception.

When we found our seats in the stalls there was a sea of Jugglers who threw balls over the audience, acrobats climbed and tumbled over the seats and we were drawn in to the world of the circus. I was particulary amazed by the young acrobat who was in front of me doing a hand stand on the back of a chair!

BarnumFrom the moment it started I was glued to the performance from start to finish – the set, costumes and choreography were amazingly colourful, making the auditorium itself feel like a real circus with light bulbs draped from the ceiling and the circus ring coming right into the front row of the stalls. My favourite, yet most nail-biting, scene was when Brian Conley, who plays the role of Barnum, tried his hand at tight rope walking – my heart was in my mouth! It was so intense you could almost hear a penny drop. At the end of the performance the audience went wild with a full standing ovation.

Afterwards we were invited to the Piano bar where I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Harrison the co-producer (who also directs our panto’s and is producer of the hit musical The Bodyguard) and the lovely Kathryn Rooney (who has appeared in several of our big pantomime productions). The cast of Barnum also joined us and I was lucky enough to spot the star of the show Brian Conley and Sir Cameron Mackintosh who also co-produces the show – not bad for my first official press night!

Back when I started as an Apprentice I certainly wouldn’t have thought I’d ever have had the privilege of attending a glitzy press night – it was a fantastic evening and I can’t wait to see the show again when it arrives here next year.

For more information and tickets for Barnum click here.

BARNUM company. Photo by Johan Persson

We need you!

This year we are thrilled to once again be nominated for the My Theatre Matters UK’s Most Welcoming Theatre Award.

The “My Theatre Matters” campaign, in association with Smooth Radio, are searching for the UK Theatre that makes its audiences feel most at home – and we would love it if you could support us by voting for Birmingham Hippodrome.

You can cast your vote HERE or for more info about why you should vote for us click here.

Thanks for all your amazing support.