Increasing access to live art for Deaf and disabled artists and audiences is a key aim of BATS Theatre’s Partnerships Manager, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford. 

Lyndee-Jane has been working in the theatre and television acting industry for 32 years, as both a performer and a director. 

"My role at BATS involves fundraising, sponsorship, stakeholder relationships, donors, and applying to trust funds for equipment and support for BATS,” she explains. “So, for example, a lot of work has gone into developing our partnership with the ANZ Staff Foundation and the funding it’s provided for our current accessibility programme.”

This new partnership with ANZ is supporting BATS to present up to seven shows that offer audio description, plus captioned, livestreamed shows for people to view in their own home. 

By offering this range of ways to experience theatre, Lyndee-Jane hopes people will experience and learn more about what accessibility in live art is about. 

"People have a lot of options to choose from, both in terms of the shows and their accessibility,” Lyndee-Jane says. “Confessions of a Sleepwalking Insomniac is also doing a NZSL interpreted show and a relaxed performance, as well as the audio description and livestreaming, which is awesome."

Other accessible shows the ANZ Staff Foundation is supporting are Femme Natale and Heartbreak Hotel.

Lyndee-Jane hopes BATS Theatre and this accessibility project will set a standard for theatre and other live arts. However, funding accessibility can be difficult.

“It would be great if accessible shows were a common occurrence. Access should be a big part of what we do all the time. I hope this is the start of a really good thing and we can secure more funding to continue our accessibility project." 

Supporting disability-led artmaking

Jonty Hendry, Chief Executive Officer at BATS, says a key part of BATS' programming strategy is focused on supporting disability-led artmaking. "BATS continues to challenge itself to be more inclusive within the means available to us. We amplify disabled voices to co-create and lead vital artmaking that benefits us all. The more we challenge ourselves to ensure  the best-possible access for both creatives and audiences, the richer our lives will be."

Speaking with RNZ's Culture 101's presenter, Mark Amery, and playwright Helen Vivienne Fletcher, Jonty said that theatre had the power to unite and uplift. “It is our responsibility as artists to ensure that the live theatre experience is accessible to everyone - including Deaf and disabled writers, actors and other creatives as well as audiences.

"We're constantly keeping our ears and hearts open to changing up what we can do and we’re so grateful to the ANZ Staff Foundation because our limited resources would not allow us to do this."  Listen to the interview

Putting the structures in place to include people as much as possible is important to BATS and to Lyndee-Jane. "The BATS kaupapa is definitely about accessibility. So that means keeping ticket prices and artist fees low so that people can get involved in live art. It’s the soul of all of us and of Aotearoa, culturally, as well."

"Live art lighting up lives"

BATS’ vision is "Live art lighting up lives". This encompasses many things, Lyndee-Jane says. 

"It's about connectivity and social change. It's about mental health, and experiencing and learning about other people. That's what live art can do for people. It's something that everybody deserves, no matter who you are and no matter the circumstances." 

BATS' upcoming 35th birthday, including a big celebration event in the second half of this year, is something Lyndee-Jane is putting a lot of energy into.

She also wants to encourage more people to give a little regularly to support BATS’ work. "We're trying to engage people through social media and encouraging them to give a little. What we're aiming for is to get lots of people giving a little, even just $5 a month, which would make a real collective difference." 

Lyndee-Jane and BATS are looking forward to feedback from the Deaf and disabled communities after the project is over so the theatre can improve its accessibility for future projects. 

BATS Theatre is a member of the Arts For All Network, facilitated by Arts Access Aotearoa. Visit BATS Theatre’s website to find out more about its accessible shows.





Accessing live art at BATS


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