There’s No Show Business Like No Access19 May 2015, by Articles in
A couple of months ago, I was surrounded by mega posters in gold-plated wooden frames with well-known musicals in them. Sitting across me were a couple of producers and team members from the production company. I was invited as a deaf person to this meeting to discuss my views as a theatre-goer requiring performances that are accessible.
Thinking to myself, will the outcome of this meeting be ‘all’s well that ends well’? There was some fear and anxiety among the Deaf community about the possibility of slashing the provision of sign interpreted theatre performances. I wanted the producers to believe in making their shows accessible without hesitation, similarly to how the Sydney Opera House have embraced theirs.
Thinking back to my very first taste of interpreted theatre was during my first year at New York University in 1992 was The Who’s Tommy, about a pinball wizard. It was mesmerising, liberating, entertaining and culturally-accessible. For the first time I was able to fully appreciate the music, the tone of the actor’s voice, the melodies and emotions of their singing. The show was culturally-accessible because the interpreters were able to deliver the essence of what’s happening on stage through sign language to provide a parallel experience to what audience members can hear.
Sharing my experience with the producers, I explained that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach for “accessibility”. For example, there are many other theatre-goers who rely only on hearing augmentation and captioning, and there are more. People with disability also enjoy going to the theatre only if it is accessible.
This prompted me to suggest the producers to consider this approach:
“…if you worry about the budget and are uncertain how to make your shows accessible, I suggest you add a new line item in your annual budget just after the contingency line with 1.5% of the entire budget dedicated for access provisions alone.”
Planning your accessible shows well in advance.
I urged the producers at that meeting not to leave this until the last minute to promote shows that are accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing community. Show advertisements are available for the general public well in advance before advertising accessible shows. For us, it is a waiting game and we often find out a month or so before we are able to afford to attend. As a result of this, it becomes financially unviable for the producers and for us. Production companies need to promote accessible performances at the very start of their advertising schedules. This will encourage greater ticket sales and a fuller house of deaf people.
This is the 7th year since the Australian Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. It is timely that the rest of society takes some responsibility to embrace this human rights principle. Article 30 of the Convention asserts that we have the same right as others to participate in and enjoy cultural life and recreational activities. Australia is an abundant nation and it is about time we have the right to fully participate in the arts.
All shows need to be made accessible for everyone! We want an inclusive society and this takes ‘two to tango’ to make it really happen: the production companies and us. Let’s make it happen.
“There’s no show businesses with no access” if it is not being embraced by producers and the theatre community.
…the show must go on with access!
Alex Jones was born deaf, but has not let that stand in the way of pursuing his career in acting, educating and advocating for Deaf and hearing impaired people. Alex is the co-founder and brand ambassador of Access Innovation Media (Ai-Media), which provides captioning, and access services. Alex is committed to raising awareness to enable greater access and end exclusion of people with a disability. He is a Deaf advocate, serving as an ambassador for Don’t DIS my ABILITY every year since 2004, and is currently the Chairperson of the Deafness Forum of Australia.
Alex is also an experienced theatre actor, graduating NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts before he was recruited to Australia in 1997 to perform with Australian Theatre of the Deaf. He was the director of the 2005 Deaflympic Games Cultural Festival in Melbourne. Alex has been a consultant for interpreted theatre and music performances in Sydney for many years and most recently interpreted the stage musical Strictly Ballroom for Auslan Stage Left in Sydney, Melbourne and soon Brisbane.