Singapore Repertory Theatre

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Reflections on Access to Arts

Written by Paul Adams, Learning & Engagement Manager (SRT) 

Last week, (21st -23rd Feb) I had the pleasure of working with Kirsty Hoyle from Include Arts, a UK based Inclusive Arts organisation that offers consultancy and training on Relaxed Performances for Arts and Cultural venues.

What is a Relaxed Performance (RP) I hear you say? A Relaxed Performance is just like any other theatre event, but with small adjustments made to support patrons with sensory sensitivities. This means, some reduction in loud startling sounds, removal of strobe lights, reduction of flashing lights and relaxed entry and exit to the auditorium. These adjustments have little impact on the artistry of the show but open up the magic of theatre to many people who would not be able to attend otherwise. There’s a little more involved in the preparation, but we’ll come to that.

The training was centred on the Social Model of Disability; which played an important part in providing a basis for understanding and revealing what opportunities there are to make art and culture more accessible.  The model is a way of thinking that say’s disability is something that society enables through the way it functions. The model offers everyone the chance to make changes that remove barriers and labels and allows everyone the access they need.

One of the first steps in preparation is it create a Visual Story for your venue and your programme. A Visual Story is a way for patrons to prepare for their visit. It offers images and short sentences that give the patron enough information to imagine being at your venue and watching your event. Visual Stories are a key supplement to the Relaxed performance and support those on the Autistic spectrum, along with patrons with other additional needs to reduce anxiety about their visit.  This, along with identifying ‘chill out’ areas for patrons to use when necessary, offers venues the chance to make changes with little or no cost.  

But what does all this mean in terms of a bigger picture for Arts and Cultural organisations in Singapore? I will borrow Kirsty Hoyle’s question, “who are you willing to say no to?” When we create content for the public to watch, are we thinking, how does everyone, (who wants too) access this play, concert, musical or exhibition? I think this question offers an exciting opportunity for organisations to start a journey of inclusivity and embed ACCESS in our everyday processes, not just as an add on, thinking long term about Signed Performance, Captioning, Audio Described, Relaxed Performance and physical access to venues. However we have to start somewhere, and for me that’s what is important right now, starting. 

I believe this agenda is a collaborative one, which requires more patrons, organisations and individual artists to come together to share experiences, knowledge and ideas to develop a truly accessible arts landscape for the community of Singapore.  SRT begins this journey with our first Relaxed Performance in partnership with Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, with the arrival of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (National Theatre). Join us 8th April 2018 at 3pm for our Relaxed Performance. We also have a signed performance of The Nightingale at KC Arts Centre, Saturday 7th April 11am.

Special thanks to Kirsty Hoyle for her advice, guidance and training.  

Published on: 01-03-2018