Working Together: Accessibility in Aotearoa Theatre

In this Arts For All Network national Zoom hui, Henrietta Bollinger and Nathan Mudge talk about the new Playmarket resource they wrote. A best-practice guide for working with practitioners and communities with access needs, It covers programming, planning, policies, budgets, contracts, riders, remuneration, rehearsal rooms, schedules, warm-ups, intimacy, costumes and make up, and design. It has an extensive section on casting advice, discusses creating new work and finding funding, along with information on audio description, New Zealand Sign Language, relaxed performances and content warnings.

You can order and buy a copy of the book for $6 from Playmarket.

Stace Robertson: Thank you all for taking the time to be here today. I really appreciate it and before we start, I just want to acknowledge everyone who's been impacted by the recent weather and flooding across the country and it's been incredibly disruptive and scary for a lot of people so just wanted to acknowledge that. My name is Stace Robertson I'm the Access Inclusion and Participation Advisor or Kaiārahi a Toi for Arts Access Aotearoa. For anyone who's new to the Arts For All Network my role is to support you all to develop and increase accessibility for Deaf and disabled artists and audiences across your work in the arts. Also joining us in the meeting from Arts Access Aotearoa we have Milly Hampton advisory programmes assistant and they're going to be assisting with running the zoom. I've been unwell and I still have a bit of a cough. Hopefully it won't be too disruptive but if needed Milly is going to take over so just to let you all know that that might happen.

Please just bear with me for a moment while I run through some housekeeping and explain how the Zoom will run firstly note that the Zoom meeting is being recorded you can turn your camera off if you like and I'd ask that you please leave your microphone muted if you are able to please include your name, pronouns and organization if you work with one in your name bar you can change that by clicking on the three white dots on the top of your video tile. Because we have so many people joining us today we're going to run the hui like a webinar so please feel free to introduce yourselves in the chat and if you'd like to ask a question of our speakers today please also add that to the chat. You can open the chat window by clicking the chat button on the bottom of your screen. You can also message individuals privately but do note that those messages will be visible to us in the meeting transcript. I'll be keeping an eye on questions and we will try and get through as many as we can. At the end of the presentation I'll follow up with any that we don't get through after the hui. If typing in the chat doesn't work for you please use the raise hand feature and we'll invite you to speak. This meeting is being NZSL interpreted uh thank you to Platform Interpreting for interpreting for us today. The interpreters will stay on screen throughout the meeting alongside our speakers and they will need to switch periodically and when they'll do they'll just interrupt let us know and we'll just pause while they do that.

So with housekeeping out of the way I'd love to introduce our guest speakers today Henrietta Bollinger and Nathan Mudge, who co-wrote the new resource in the Playmarket Guideline Series called Working Together: Accessibility in Aotearoa Theatre which has just been published and is available to order off the Playmarket website for six dollars and there is also a digital version in the works this guide is a best practice guide for working with practitioners and communities with access needs it covers programming, planning, policies, budgets, contracts, writers, renumeration, rehearsal rooms, schedules, warm-ups, intimacy, costumes and makeup and design it has an extensive section on casting advice discusses creating new work and finding funding along with information on audio description, sign language, relaxed performances and content warnings so it's very comprehensive and it's been designed to work alongside the Arts For All resource that some of you will be familiar with so it kind of expands and builds upon that resource and takes a bit of a deeper look into some theatre specific accessibility and I want to acknowledge Murray and the Playmarket team for their support of this kaupapa and the resource and I also want to thank all the Deaf and disabled artists who shared their knowledge and experience and those who wrote sections for the guide Emily Duncan, Helen Vivian Fletcher, Katie Querin and Rachel Turner and while this guide is theatre focused there is a lot that is transferable across art form types and I think it will be a really awesome resource so over to Etta and Nathan would you like to introduce yourselves please maybe if we start with Etta.

Henrietta Bollinger: Sure, thanks Stace. Thanks Stace, I'm Henrietta or Etta my sign name is Etta it's like a joystick control of my electric wheelchair so that's where that comes from it was gifted to me by a cousin of mine who's my teacher of sign language for a while. I'm basically, I've been a disability advocate and also a playwright myself and came from a family with kind of a long history in the arts and so this I guess being invited onto this project by Nathan and Playmarket was this really lovely interesting moment of you know bringing together these two elements of my work that I'd kind of seen as quite separate up to that point like I always included disability in my work but yeah it was this lovely kind of confluence of the two things and you know interestingly at the time I was also performing in a play so everything kind of was feeding I think feeding each other which was lovely

Stace: Thanks Etta and Nathan

Nathan Mudge: Kia ora rā tātou ko Nathan tōku ingoa ko ngāti Kuki Airani. I'm originally from Palmerston North. I was born and raised there currently based in in Vancouver Canada it's snowing here today which is a culture shock I've been here for a month before I came here though I was based in Wellington and yeah started my career in theatre I guess as an actor and then kind of branched out into producing as well and my mother was a teacher aid so I've always been aware of disabled people and their experiences or at least the ones with those I knew and so as for as a producer accessibility became a significant part of my practice very early on and so it just came to a point where Etta and I, Etta with their lived experience and me with my producing experience were able to come together and kind of come up with something that we could contribute to our work pals in the industry and here we are today. Very happy and grateful to be here and to have worked with Etta and Stace and the rest of the team that put their time and energy into this so tēnā koutou katoa

Stace: Kia ora Nathan thank you so could you both tell us about this resource, and I guess the development of it you've already shared a wee bit about how you came to be a part of creating it but yeah

Nathan: so it started off when I was a script coordinator at Playmarket and the team was jamming ideas on what the next guideline could be and the Playmarket Guidelines are a series that they produce that explore everything from cultural safety to intimacy to other topics and when brainstorming what we could do next naturally I suggested accessibility I thought that would be a good thing that we could cover within a book format and so I was I knew of Etta through their writing and through their work as a theatre practitioner generally they're also represented by Playmarket so I asked Etta if they would be involved if they would write it with me and yeah from there we just created a process together and it's become a really valuable and meaningful work relationship for me we're still working together on other projects now and yeah so that's kind of where the with this book specifically started awesome thanks Nathan I think for me it's been really exciting to see an organization like Playmarket kind of step into pushing forward around accessibility and providing this resource and I'll just hold it out briefly it'll be backwards because cameras but it's a yeah great published resource that is available off the Playmarket website as I said and one of the things that I thought was really valuable about this resource was that it was a very collaborative process with other different disabled artists and you actually invited several other artists to write chapters what was your thinking behind this and why was it important to you I mean to me in disability rights and Deaf rights and that wider community have always been a collaborative movement and one of the I one of the kind of catch cries of disability rights anyway is nothing about us without us so I was very

Etta: well both of us kind of had conversations about Nathan and I both had conversations about this is as far as our expertise goes and this is the specific expertise that we're bringing but we were conscious that there were other very talented people out there and I particularly as a disabled person didn't want to speak for other disabled people because I think that's quite a common experience. The other part of it is that we kind of go into and is particularly in the casting section is this kind of assumption that there isn't the disabled talent out there and actually we kind that there was it's just that due to kind of access barriers those people's work may not be as visible or their career paths may look very different to the kind of usual non-disabled and hearing kind of trajectory you know and Rachel Turner's piece I think she talks about you know that being part of Equal Voices was this kind of opportunity not only to kind of be part of creating something but you know to be exposed to theatre and to be exposed to kind of also international conversations and stuff in a way that she hadn't had the opportunity before and so yeah there's like limits on opportunity and therefore this visibility and so I really wanted yeah readers to go away with this kind of sense of that there is sort of abundant talent out there and that really it's about removing barriers so that it's so that Deaf and disabled artists can contribute on an equal playing field and also not or on an equal stage I suppose and also not from that point of view of people being helped to participate but from the point of view of these people already have so much to offer and to facilitate that offering and that talent you remove the barriers not from this kind of perspective of giving Deaf and disabled people something to do which can sometimes kind of come into the perspectives on what access what access looks like

Stace: awesome thanks Etta did you have anything you wanted to add Nathan

Nathan: yeah I think for me it's everything Etta said and also my experience in accessibility is purely as a producer I don't have the lived experience of someone with a disability and so the more perspectives I think made the document stronger and I think we knew that from the beginning that something that's been evident in our in our practice as makers we're familiar with how to consider what people's needs are whether they're disabled or not everyone has to them and the only way you do that is by listening to people and so from the outset that was a priority of ours that we just would open up as many opportunities as possible to allow people to feedback to give their perspectives share what they would want to be seen in the document so that we could ensure that as much as possible what we were delivering was something that could be useful and have a meaningful impact on the way that our industry works.

Stace: awesome

Etta: And I think also that people one of the other parts to it to me was we're talking to creative people and creative people respond to story and so I wanted there to be stories of people's experience in there because it's just another way that these ideas can kind of resonate too

Stace: I think it made it a really powerful resource or guideline to read and one of the things that I found really meaningful about it was that those different perspectives really show the knowledge and insight that Deaf and disabled people have around different ways of working and how there's so much potential to change the way we work to benefit everyone and sometimes Deaf and disabled people actually are incredibly have incredibly creative ways of working that could really change the landscape of theatre practice in Aotearoa and one of the things you know we've talked about was when disabled people come together there's a lot of shared knowledge and experience and one of the things I thought this resource did really well was kind of hold the space between being accessible to and engaging for non-disabled people but also being really deep and meaningful for Deaf and disabled people themselves and in terms of there's almost like a layer of speaking directly to Deaf and disabled people combined and I wondered how did you go about translating kind of that Deaf and disability kind of shared knowledge so that non-disabled people could learn from it and put things into practice because I know there's often kind of there's so much that goes unspoken because you when you're amongst other Deaf and disabled people you just don't need to need to articulate and explain all that stuff

Etta: Well, I mean, I think from our initial conversations we kind of had this idea that we wanted it to be in focused around a cultural shift rather than like understanding accessibility as this promises from start to finish in this thing of continual improvement rather than these kind of problems to the work that you already have created I mean that is still valuable to do if you have a work that that you created before you kind of had access to this knowledge because I understand as well that it's also about having access to the ways of creating accessibility but yeah we really wanted to focus around yeah challenging people to think differently about what access looks like and to be able to take it I suppose into their own practice and reflect on their own practice rather than feeling like they were being given a list of do this, do this, do this and this because if you can't see how that's going to work into your into your work then your less likely to apply it and yeah just trusting people ,trusting practitioners that you're speaking to create a bunch of people and kind of I suppose framing accessibility as a creative proposition of like how do you make sure (how do you creatively make sure) that everyone's in the room and everyone's being heard and unable to be part of things and also just the we found and you might want to speak to this Nathan as well we ran a couple of Hui for different disabled artists and then had some one-on-one conversations as well and across that there was kind of just this theme of like, I mean we nearly opened the we nearly opened the book with just this like "don't be a dick" was going to be the main sort of quote from because it came up so often like people would just kind of be like well you know just don't be a dick and there was this kind of like understanding from disabled people of like you know what that is even though there's kind of specifics of the situations that people were talking about might be very different it was sort of like the yeah there was this this sense of just kind of treat people as people and make space for them I suppose did you want to speak more to that

Nathan: yeah I'll just tautoko call what you said again I think that what excites me most about this is that we're well generally the people that will be reading this book or who this book that will be useful for are creatives and this offers us a wero a creative wero that we can all choose to take on that when we apply this cultural shift of thinking about how disabled people exist in the world and exist within our industry and then recognize that in most instances it's non-disabled people that have the responsibility to fix that it's an opportunity for us to work together and be creative about what that process could look like I think that it can be quite daunting for a lot of people who don't have that experience or don't have that knowledge and so for us it was just trying to take it beyond being about this is what you do and focusing on that but even more so why we do it and so that was just a huge learning opportunity for me too because I got to sit in those rooms and listen to these different artists talk about what their perspectives are and for me it was wanting to excite people by what the potential of that could be rather than overwhelm them with you know you're going to have to transform the way that you work it can be something that we can look forward to and I do believe as artists we have the capacity for that to filter out across other industries too but if anyone's equipped to do it it's the creatives that can actually think about how can we do this differently that I think is a what excites me most

Stace: yeah absolutely and I think when you get creative asking for change and you get creatives and artists changing the way they work it flows on into the built environment and it flows on into so many other sectors of society because everyone is engaging with the arts in some way in their life whether they're kind of recognizing it or not and I think the arts are generally that place where social movements shift and where social perceptions change so I think it's really exciting to have that that challenge to put forward.

Etta were you're going to say something else?

Etta: yeah I just I mean also the other I mean the other side to that is people were definitely there was a lot of generosity in the conversations around like this is a journey and you have to start somewhere and we all know that not every person or every organization is going to have all the knowledge from the beginning but I think that was also one of the reasons why people wanted to get involved in it because everyone that was involved in it was already invested in that journey of shifting perceptions and creating more access and you know here's something that kind of brings it brings it together so that we're not I mean I'm sure there's an individual conversations will continue but that was one of the really nice things for me as well was that realizing you know that there's all these people out there also doing you know creating those spaces and pushing for access

Stace: awesome thank you yeah I think it adds a real I guess a really valuable tool to people's the resources that are available and one of the things I mean we kind of worked together throughout the development of the resource and we had a lot of conversations about you know what's the angle of it and who are we kind of who is it being pitched at and what resources already exist that it can build on rather than having to be another 101 resource because I think often that's where things get pitched is that the level of people who are completely new to starting accessibility which is you know really valuable we need those resources but I think the space that this resource landed in is kind of more of a kind of you've kind of already started and you're wanting to deepen your work or just kind of inviting that that deeper consideration of accessibility and I wondered if either of you had as you're developing the resource had a particular way in mind of how people would use the resource

Etta: I mean at the end of it we the conclusion sort of says you know we invite you to use this as a script as you would a script and what we kind of meant by that is that for scripted work anyway but also and I guess devising would start in in a similar place but with maybe some more space around it you start with this this blueprint that this provocation I suppose to work from and then everyone to bring that to life everyone has to bring their individual skills and energy and effort towards yeah putting that on stage and telling the story and I guess the way of looking at it the reason for looking at it like that is that as Nathan said accessibility and doing it right can be quite intimidating and I want people reading this to go actually yeah we may not have all the knowledge and we can have the humility to acknowledge where we're at but we do actually have the skills of the collective and we've all got our individual strengths and I actually think too that that is one of the things that you find once you create inclusive spaces and accessible spaces is that Deaf and disabled people when they're kind of being when whereas a community being kind of included in a in a sort of afterthought sort of way then that's the level that we can that we're able to contribute on if we're if we're being included from the beginning then we you know then we're able to bring our creative ideas and our energy and our problem solving to the beginning of processes and we're therefore like able to contribute on yeah a more yeah at the same level as our peers and I guess that's the distinction to make is that yeah when you when you.

When you conceive of access as this kind of small additive it limits us when you when you and when you can kind of conceive of it as a whole way of thinking and working and then we can be included from the start.

Nathan: yeah I go back to what you're saying about a 101 document because that was definitely at the start of the process something that I assumed was where this document would go but it became apparent quite quickly that to write a 101 document it would date very quickly that being because disability is obviously an evolving concept it reflects where we are at as a society and as societies move the barriers can slightly change and so uh for us to then redirect the document to be more about a cultural shift why we do accessibility and then giving people the opportunity to consider how they can make their own individual practices more accessible that would be more useful of a document so I guess that's what I hope people would get out of it reading it is that they could just read more broadly from different uh people about what the disability experience is like in the arts industry and then use their information to critically consider what they're doing and how they can change their own practices the risk in being too specific is that it starts to become not relevant to some people but accessibility is relevant to everyone and we all have different ways in which we could improve that within our work

Etta: and we also I mean in terms of other booklets in the series guides in the series we were the they were sort of also about collaboration and cultural shifts so we wanted there to be kind of them some resonance in the in the ways of thinking like ay Nathan like we kind of looked then spoke quite a lot about the guide that is was around working in sort of bicultural and treaty honouring ways and you know and then there's also the guide on sort of audience safety and actually all those things feed in and speak to accessibility as well

Stace: yeah absolutely and I think I think something that came through really strongly was a sense of equity and a sense of just-ness if that's the right word but and it was it's an invitation for people to think about how they could do their own access as you say but it's kind of stayed away from that prescriptive this is how you do it and I think it will be relevant for a long time and I really appreciated that it did kind of frame disability as a cultural construct and you know really reinforce that you know the Deaf experience is very different to disability and that's a different cultural construct as well and I really uh loved what Rachel Turner had included from Equal Voices about a non-hierarchical way of devising work and you know not working from a script and not prioritizing English because you know Equal Voices Arts is working in a in a in a way that honours both sign language and English equally and is providing that and fostering that space for Deaf community to have a place in theatre and in the arts and I think there's so much there for other communities to consider in the way we work and in terms of how do you create or remove how do you remove the systems and processes that kind of perpetuate marginalization or prevent people from having a voice so I'm really excited for the conversations that come from this resource I think one thing I was curious about is were there any excuse me were there any findings from your consultation that were surprising to you

Etta: yeah I mean I was actually surprised by how yeah that they can be diversity in the experience and diversity and the kind of angle that people are like the areas that people are working but that there was this kind of solidarity in this kind of not or yeah it's kind of unity in in sort of what people were asking for in terms of yeah just the right to be part of it and the ability to kind of have processes that that reflect their ways of being in working in the world I mean of course there's like diversity of opinion around things like who can who can write disabled characters and how do you go about that sensitively or like you know who can who can perform as disabled characters and those kind of things but there's a sort of details but there was this kind of ethic of yeah and yeah this kind of ethic of like respect and acknowledgment and it was just really nice to kind of engage with people as Deaf and disabled people but also professionals at the same time because I think often non-disabled companies for example we'll be looking for advice and so you become the disabled you become the disabled voice as opposed to being able to be that that to like stand in your own as an artist not that people do that intentionally and not that it isn't valuable to just come at a process from one point of view but um yeah really nice for me to be basically talking to both my community as Deaf and disabled people and then also simultaneously speaking to them as artists and practitioners and there was just seemed in the conversations a lot of respect for each other which yeah

Stace: that's awesome

Nathan: I'm not sure if there was necessarily huge surprises for me but I definitely learned a lot of new things what I said before about that that pivots of discussing it as a cultural shift rather than a 101 it made sense when we once we did it and so I'm excited about people reading the book and applying to that to their work using their creativity to do that there were some interesting discussions that we had Etta and I amongst ourselves after conversations with Māori artists about colonization as a disabling force I had never really perceived it as that but it makes sense disabled people within te ao māori they play they hold a different place to what they do in in the pākehā world and how I guess their intersectionality between disabled people between indigenous people obviously different experiences but what that does for non-disabled people or non-indigenous people in these situations is puts the onus on them to come up with solutions to work together like the title of this book says to figure out how we address those things yeah I feel like I'm just throwing different thoughts in because it did conjure up a lot for me and I'm still working out on what that means what I think that means to me and what I think that means to the industry but yeah that was something that I learned

Stace: that's awesome thanks Nathan

Etta, you mentioned the sorry train of thoughts just slipped like you mentioned um that there was a um gosh what was it sorry I'm just going to go to the next question and hope that one comes back to me um ... Are there this resources come out as a as a published document now and I know there's a digital version coming but are there plans to create any other accessible formats if you can answer that that question

Etta: yes! yeah there are there are plans that was something that we had planned for from the beginning unfortunately it took us a lot not unfortunately it took the time it needed to write the document itself and so now that we've finished it and it's gone to publication then that's the next step for this document is us working out what the what the accessible documents we need are and then implementing those the large text version will be up very soon but we're also exploring NZSL videos that do segments of it but obviously that's a costly venture that's going to take some investment by us which we're underway with at the moment and yeah we'd really like to sort of hear I guess as people start to use it or as community kind of hear about it what formats would be useful as well and then maybe what yeah whatever additional because we're very conscious that the book as being part of a series you know had a particular format that we did adapt but in a particular length as well that we had to keep to and so we have not by any means been able to cover everything so we're like still interested in hearing from people about how they're using it or what other resources they think are needed

Stace: awesome yeah thanks Etta I remembered what my earlier question was you mentioned that you know there's been conversations around who gets to write disabled characters and obviously people have differing opinions on that but I wonder you know what as a disabled writer theatre practitioner what's your thoughts on that

Etta: my thoughts are complicated but I think what I come back to is who is profiting from like I really feel like minority stories are very precious especially when there hasn't been the platform or the stage for them and you know it's that stuff we were talking about before that there's a certain level of understanding that disabled people Deaf and disabled people can bring to those experiences that you know it's just beyond the experience of non-disabled people and it's not that they can't develop empathy around that which I do think non-disabled people working in that work you know that is one of the things that it brings that is this stories have this ability to help us to empathize and you know go deeper emotionally than just having someone explain to you kind of what the rules the rules of access or the rules of an experience are but I think it's about to me it's about recognizing that certain communities have had limits on their on their opportunity and if you're going to then write those characters those communities should be benefiting primarily from those stories you know and again it's just that thing of nothing about us without us we have to be there for that to be an authentic story I mean I think about the play that I the play that I was in while I was working on this and it was The Normal Heart it was like the second time that I'd or third second or third time that I'd performed on stage first time in a full length piece and I only went for it because it was a disabled character in that and they were specifically looking for and prepared to cast a disabled person that was what kind of opened me up to oh maybe I could do this and you know I got and I got to learn so much from that experience but I was then watching there was a professional production of the same show in that I think the National Theatre did in England and the actress in that received I think in Olivier nomination she got up in her speech and said you know this is the first time in Liz Carr was she's an actress and a writer and a disability activist and she got up and said you know it's the first time in 30 years of this play which has been you know was written in the 80s first time in 30 years that this play has been staged professionally with a disabled actress and so even at that level you know these are conversations that were still that we're still having

Stace: yeah absolutely and I think particularly for that play and that character who was based on you know a real person who was a disabled woman it really highlights the fact that there hasn't been that you know that opportunity for disabled people to play you know characters of disabled people and you know especially when you think back to you know the amount of non-disabled actors who have won Oscars and things for portraying disabled characters I think it's quite a stark example of that that lack of opportunity and that perception that disabled people you know aren't able to do this and I always think back to Maysoon Zayid's Ted Talk where she talks about she's an actor in the States with cerebral palsy and she talks about auditioning to play a character with CP and she doesn't get the role and she gets told that oh we just didn't think you could do it and she was like well if I can't do it the character can't do it either you know so I always I always think of that story and um it's a good example but and it's what you've shared has been so valuable and I wondered other any examples of groups or organizations who you think are starting to do this work or who are on the right track

Etta: Do you want to start Nathan? 

Nathan: yep I think that there are a lot of organizations that I can speak for theatre because that's more of my knowledge is but there are a lot of theatres now that are incorporating access into their practice I'm biased because Etta and I are working with them but Tāwhiri are making great steps consulting with us and with Arts Access and with the wider community about a strategy which I think is something that a lot of arts organizations should look into developing a strategy and a policy for your organization to establish what it what that culture is for you and then starting to make plans or with that being taken into consideration yeah I think there are a lot of arts organizations now that are heading in that direction and I guess what we wanted to make sure this document did was ensure that people weren't just stopping at NZSL performances and audio describe performances and thinking that was it those are definitely valuable things and we should have them it should have been have more of them but yeah it's just trying to push everyone in the direction of establishing new ways of thinking about our practice and how we can make everything more accessible not just the experience for the audience coming in to watch show but also the artists that participate backstage the administrators the employees that work at your organization accessibility goes beyond just the actual engagement with the arts and it goes into making it and setting the policy for it and all of those things

Stace: absolutely

Etta: I mean you know of course there's like there have been examples of sort of yeah of people kind of starting to think about that stuff very early like you know of course Touch Compass has been around for 30 years and we did communicate a little bit with Jolt as well but they were at the time headed overseas at the time that we were I'm writing the at the time that we were writing the resource but yeah I guess I get my hope personally from like the individual artists that are that are out there and the ways as well that we're creating space for each other and I guess insisting again on that collective voice and that kind of multi that you know that that there isn't just one perspective or one way of working and I yeah they just I really like I think I said earlier it was just really heartening to hear from the artists that we did for the for the resource and I really want to thank them for their huge one generosity and trusting us as well to I guess take these interviews or hold the pieces of writing that they contributed and translate that into something

Stace: yeah awesome yeah I think the reason I asked that question is because it comes through really strongly in the resource that that theatre companies and practitioners should work together to build access and that it should be a collaborative process and you know there's a really strong statement you know that access isn't something that anyone owns and I you know there's organizations like Tim Bray Theatre Company and so many others who are building ways of working that work for them and I think it becomes so rich when we're able to learn from each other and share experiences and go this worked for us it might work for you or you know really have the space to collaborate and share knowledge and yeah I think that's where the Arts For All Network can be really helpful and yeah it's awesome to have opportunities like this to be able to kind of discuss you know different ways of thinking about access and particularly to hear from Deaf and disabled artists and practitioners about what works for them and what doesn't work and to always be reflecting on the way that we're doing access and thinking is this is this you know the best way to be doing this or you know seeking feedback from community and you know doing what works for you and what doesn't work and just really you know thinking of access as a reflective process

I guess as a last kind of question before we move over to questions from the from the audience here today what's your hope for the future of theatre in Aotearoa.

Etta: I want to make more of it I think and I yeah and I would love it if yes if people would be able to sort of grow in their excitement about what accessibility what accessibility can bring to it and also just yeah just that I know I know lots of the artists out there who are who are starting to kind of like starting to yeah who have been trailblazing I guess in insisting on insisting on their voices and insisting on their work and yeah people like Duncan Armstrong and like um Jakob Donbrosky those kind of people excite me and I'm also um potentially going to you know I'm potentially hoping to work with some of the people that contributed to the guide as well or have had or have already had the privilege of working with them in previous in previous pieces of work so yeah

Stace: yeah awesome

Nathan: for me I hope that we can see our organizations start to reflect the diversity of our society more I'd love to see more immigrants more POC more or BIPOC more disabled people within our arts leadership roles within our organizations and I'm excited about the possibility of when that happens because I think that the creative opportunities that can come from us all working and collaborating together are really exciting the potential that that we can get from that how we can change the way we do things that'll happen when the people that we are working with start to reflect the diversity of our society too I think and I'm excited for yeah

Stace: absolutely 100% and I think you know to the to the folks on the call who are working in theatre companies now working you know uh if your organization isn't in a position to be able to offer things like residencies like commissions please do reach out about how we can develop opportunities specifically for Deaf and disabled artists and practitioners and because those as Etta and Nathan said earlier in the call you know often for Deaf and disabled people that you don't have that same linear trajectory through the art sector and so having the opportunity to take up things like that really gives people a chance to get a foot in the door and you know so gives disabled people a chance to think I actually I'd be really good at that I want to give that a go and you know for our Deaf and disabled artists who have been working for a long time um you know more opportunities are needed and you know there's been some companies doing cool things like you know Tahi Festival last year commissioned a disabled writer to write a 50-minute monologue as part of the development season and you know those kind of opportunities are incredibly valuable and we need more of that kind of thing so if you think that's something your company might be in a position to do then um then please reach out

but we'll jump over for questions shortly but yeah if anyone's kind of been sitting through the call today with questions please pop them in the chat but also feel free to reach out Arts Access Aotearoa is always available to support and help you on your accessibility work so check got any questions and whoops we've got a big one from Katie and I'm just going to read this one out and read this one out so Katie has said I find that theatres often get really excited about providing access programs NZSL interpreted, audio described, sensory relaxed shows, but making the shifts to diversify on the stage and among the tech office team to include disabled people is less enthusiastically received what is a good positive way to guide people with this mindset to understand that access programs don't always mean a company is accessible and that aiming for true access and inclusion can open doors and increase potential it's a great question thanks Katie

Etta: yeah I mean I think that and you would know Katie as well I think from your work that that that access programs and kind of the assumption that different disabled people are primarily audience has kind of been the way that we've been doing inclusion in the arts in arts accessibility has been this kind of assumption that Deaf and disabled people I guess are in this passive position or a position of yeah receiving uh yeah being viewers and being audience rather than being creators and being active and I mean I to be honest I think that that's kind of an assumption that is society-wide and not just not just in the arts but I guess to me it comes back to that question of who of just challenging people to think who is benefiting from these stories who are we not seeing as well and like how realistic is it that we're not seeing Deaf and disabled people in our stories and in our workplaces because that's 24% of the population

Yeah there's a lot of there is I think there is just a lot of fear around what if things kind of what if we attempt inclusion and it goes wrong or it's too hard so I guess it's kind of shifting the conversation and to either what do you gain by including people or what do you lose if you don't yeah

Nathan: I'm sure I think the creative challenge itself is a positive thing it's I guess it's further too they're changing our mindset on how we respond to that challenge the challenge doesn't need to be daunting and there is not necessarily a right or wrong way of doing it it's not an explicit this is your list and you take each box off its uh what is the what are the processes that we work in what are the venues that we work in and how our people are able to engage with that can they engage with that and that's going to be different for every organization so yeah just embracing that the possibilities of what that could be it's an opportunity for us and our teams to work together and come up with solutions and those solutions across companies might be different but if we're all working towards the goal of breaking down those barriers it can only be a good thing and it's an ongoing thing it's not something that you're expected to get perfectly off the bat it's okay so what worked this time what didn't and how do we improve that and just keeping at it.

Etta: I think as well one of the things that makes it difficult is that or I guess one of the things we have to remind ourselves and when kind of making those accommodations for Deaf and disabled people to take on roles is that it's work and I think we get it into um sorry that the answers work I mean inclusion takes work but it's work worth doing but I mean that being an artist is work or being a practitioner's work and I think that yeah having that conversation that that that uh people are entitled to reasonable accommodations and in their workplaces and I know that it kind of can be quite scary for theatre companies because of the kind of perceived experience and I guess it's about I guess it's here about kind of recognizing yeah recognizing it as work and valuing it as work and therefore I'm attaching to that the fact that that for people to work effectively they should they're entitled to the supports that they need and

Stace: and I think you know it's really about being strategic and how you how you do that work like as an organization reflecting on what currently is or isn't accessible about your organization and what barriers would someone have to navigate around and what could you do to remove those barriers um and I think it's about creating a space of cultural safety I know you know there's a lot of people working in the arts who have chronic health conditions and disabilities who are not comfortable to share those in their workplaces because you know the way we work in the arts is often not accessible and there's a perception that if I tell someone I have a disability maybe I'm not going to get work and all those kind of things so I think you know as a way to sector we have a responsibility to kind of shift some of that thinking so that people and really demonstrate that we are including disabled people and that you know there's open different ways of working because yeah otherwise people are going to keep pushing through when they don't need to and you know I've done that in the past and it's been really detrimental to my work and to myself so I think that's a big part of it and I think you know if an organization is already running an access program then perhaps the next questions are what we need to do so that this access program can be run by disabled people what are we doing to ensure that Deaf and disabled artists and arts practitioners uh on the stage and part of that access program and you know using that work that's already happening as a as a leverage point to deepen the accessibility of that organization I know physical buildings are always a struggle and you know sometimes the issue is our building is just not accessible and we're not in a position to be able to move and I think covid really demonstrated how we can you know work in flexible ways that still build a team environment and bring people together so and you know not having one person working off-site means they're isolated and all those kind of things so

 

there's lots of different ways to start to do their work but it definitely is a mindset shift and I kind of art sector cultural sector shift as well in our organizations

Nathan: you're exactly right so if there was ever a situation that highlighted the capacity we have to actually make these changes it was the pandemic we all moved very quickly to adapt to look after each other and to protect each other's health businesses around the country suddenly had the capacity to do those things and it's the exact same cultural viewpoint that drove us to do that for one another that we could be applying in in this situation how do we consider what is the state that society's in right now and how do we change the way that we work to accommodate those things we all moved to Zoom and some for some people that that stuck because we saw how it was beneficial to some people some more than others to be able to have that access to our work through a digital platform um and so I think that we all have the capability to do this we've shown that we can

Stace: yeah, awesome thank you uh just shouting out to other participants does anyone else have any other questions?

Alison Walls: I love that you included intimacy and the guidelines do you have any further thoughts on intimacy directors working with Deaf and disabled folks should they always be part of the process is there enough intersection currently between accessibility advocacy and intimacy training I think you'll have lots to say on this one Etta

Etta: oh I do um so yeah I um I wrote that section because very interested in in in sort of the role of intimacy coordinators anyway and wanted to think about how it sort of applied differently or similarly to working with Deaf and disabled people I think generally we don't talk about um like as a society we don't talk about Deaf and disabled people was having intimate lives really we don't talk about different disabled people as having sexualities as being desirable as you know is that being a possibility for their lives and so that's kind of a whole thing on its own and that's one of the stories that we tell about Deaf and disabled people is that that's not an element of their lives but then I was also thinking as well about you know the fact that there is very specific intimacies that are inherent to kind of needing support from other people or needing to use equipment and I sort of wanted to highlight those in terms of what like no I don't think there's enough intersection in terms of what we could do about that I think it would be about I mean I think the exciting thing about intimacy coordination is that it's a new it's a new role and it was a response as well to listening to the experiences of women and gender minorities in their experience of being performers and responding to that in a sort of how do we take this seriously and how do we give it the weight that we would usually give something like stage combat how do we give it how do we how do we respond in a way that is keeps people safe and but I think the exciting thing about it being this new is that it's open and if intimacy coordinators want to start talking about how do we do this for Deaf and disabled people I think there's a lot of space for collaboration there and a lot of space for yeah how do we do this inclusively I would I mean I would say they should always I would always advocate for an intimacy coordinator and I would be yeah I guess I would be fascinated to see what conversations Deaf and disabled people and people working in that space could have or Deaf and disabled people leading on what intimacy looks like for our communities so yeah I guess yeah definitely have the conversation I think if you're being brought into a project you know thinking about how does this apply

Stace: absolutely it's great thanks Etta Nathan did you have any thoughts.

Nathan: um nothing additional to what Etta has already said.

Stace: cool um do we have any other questions from the chat. We don't have any raised hands as well yes absolutely Katie uh Katie's just said I have another can I have a minute um absolutely.

Nathan: and big thank you to Katie who wrote a section in the book yes yeah, I'll chats with Katie have been wonderful

Stace: yeah I think all the all the different sections that that people wrote really lend such an insightful and deep perspective and all I think had really amazing call to actions as well so it was yeah they were really incredible

Nathan: and there were artists too that chose not to write something specifically but rather speak to us and so we incorporated their ideas through the document rather than having a section to them explicitly and that was just us catering what people wanted to put into the document and how much they wanted to see themselves in it quite literally some didn't want their name in it and that's fine yeah

Stace: yeah absolutely

Katie said Deaf and disabled people always have to do the work around the logistics like making sure the rehearsal space is accessible getting in the support they need doing lots of explaining and inevitable education who should be doing this work is there room for a specific person within the theatre company who supports disabled artists or are there other groups or support systems already available

Etta: I mean shout out to Stace but we don't want Stace to have to carry everybody and everything but I one of the things that we mention in the guide is sort of disability dramatology and that was kind of me thinking about you know how our stories are quite sort of sacred really and that I mean I don't know if that's too kind of spiritual of a word but that they need to be cared for that there needs to be a level of sort of treating them as treasures and I mean that's one way is just to kind of acknowledge that there's you know a depth of experience there and that particularly they're engaging with our stories that are about exclusion and are about difficult history of oppression is a difficult thing to do and so having that having that person in there and kind of acknowledging that could be hard stuff to engage with we also say in the guide that in terms of like you know casting and that kind of thing that there should always be if you're if you're going to put out a call for Deaf and disabled performance that there should be a contact point for sort of access needs and that that probably should be like the production manager somebody with some kind of control over how the in sort of wider view of how the whole process runs but then also that I guess the decisions around or the last voice on how somebody wants their access needs to be met needs to be with the disabled person I mean in terms of groups and support systems available maybe you want to speak to that actually Stace.

Stace: I think there are some organizations that do have specific accessibility roles within their organizations and I know Touch Compass is one and sometimes that will depend on the resourcing of your organization as to whether you're able to have a specific role like that but I think it again goes back to that cultural shift and way of working you know like if you're putting accessibility at the centre of the way that you're working then you're not going to choose a rehearsal space for example unless you know it's accessible and in terms of how you find out about that there's organizations you can go to who do accessibility audits I think it's again that collaborative process of if you don't own or the space that you're working in is not yours having those conversations with building owners or with whoever's operating the space to be like hey there's some things we can do to make this space more accessible and bringing it back to policy and you know having that in your organization because that will support you to do that work and to do that advocacy it's also about you know using other tools and things that are available so if a space you're using is run by a council and a council has a commitment to including Deaf and disabled people for example but their space is an accessible going and talking to them and having those conversations and being you know obviously always being led by disabled people but being in a position to do some of that advocacy work is really helpful so it's not falling on Deaf and disabled people all the time but yeah you can always feel like you can reach out and have those conversations if you're not sure about things because you know it's always essential that Deaf and disabled people lead those conversations and have the ultimate say on what they want and need um as Etta said but the responsibility of doing the work to make it happen should not be falling on that community so yeah and sometimes it can be you know just about being really clear about what your accessibility is and what it isn't and giving people an opportunity to make an informal decision about how they want to engage with it or whether they want to at all did you want to add anything Nathan

Nathan: yeah purely from a production team structure I think that it's on the producer ultimately to ensure that everyone is aligned with an accessible kaupapa if that is part of your project and it should be and then ensuring from there that every other a person and your team is also actioning their work with accessibility in mind I think that access is a significant or barriers to access or a significant enough issue that it is beneficial to have someone on your team that is focused on that and entirely but I understand too that it's not that's not feasible for everyone for whatever reasons but if you can get everybody on board to share that load otherwise there are ways of doing it and it's a it's a what Jon said in the chat actually I think articulates it better than I can that access leaders are focus it's everyone's responsibility but I do think that ultimately it's the producer to ensure that everyone on this team is on the same page as well yeah

Etta: and I think there's something in it as well about sort of you know having this collective drive for access but there might there may be some very personal access needs that people have and it's about say for example for myself one of them would be you know assistance with costume changes and I want to know that that's going to be a person of my choice and that I'm not going to have to discuss the logistics of that with you know everyone on the team that I that I can just know that there's one or two people trust them to be available to support with that and then I only need to discuss those kind of intimate details with people of my choice and so I guess it's about having a having an early discussion about you know where are those relationships in the room and who's available to support and but also who do you want to be supported by because I think also there can be a perception of you have to take the kinds of assistance and support that are on offer that it has to that like that we're able the solutions we've come up with you know the ones that are on offer and you have to either accept them or not and I think as much as possible companies need to be communicating their limitations to Deaf and disabled artists around what access they can provide so that those artists can make choices for themselves around how they're going to engage and what's going to be good and what's going to feel

Stace: absolutely

Nathan: this should be the type of a producer's list because when you're looking after a team of people you need to know what their needs are and that applies to disabled people and non-disabled people you're taking the opportunity at the beginning of a project to get in touch with everyone and ask what their needs are in a rehearsal room space and for some people that might be related to the disability for others that might be related to something else yeah just being fully on the same page with the people that you're working with from an access cultural standpoint but also just knowing who they are as people and what their needs are and then facilitating a process that looks after them properly absolutely

Stace: and I think things like access riders can be really helpful for that and making sure that's whether a particular person so that information is only you know shared as you know much as needed I'll just read out what Jon's put in the chat as well Jon from Touch Compass we have an accessibility audit doc that we use when engaging with venues and other organizations we also have a specific role in our org that leads access and inclusion along with our five pillars that govern our everyday behaviours it's about the kaupapa that informs your process where when access lead is a focus then it's everyone's responsibility absolutely I've also got a question from Charlotte Nightingale apologies if this has been answered I was a little late to the meeting I was wondering whether there is a strategy around getting this resource to organizations outside of the disability art sector I see that the resources available at a cost just wondering whether there was any funding to get it on people's desks, rehearsal rooms etc so people have it at the forefront of their minds when planning programs and apologies if this has been answered

Nathan: thank you for bringing it up Charlotte because another access to barrier another barrier to access is the financial barrier which we're aware of too we said earlier on in the meeting which is also applicable to this that now that we've finished the main document for Playmarket Etta and I will be looking into what other accessible versions of the document and the information and that how we get that out there and so this is the kind of feedback that we love to hear because it prioritizes for us the need for us to get this out to people and minimizing the cost and doing that so it's in our minds and we'll be working towards that because I agree I think it was useful for as many people as possible to get this

Etta: I think at this stage perhaps you know you can correct me Nathan if you don't think this would be a good approach but I yeah if you're feeling like your company needs several copies of it the cost is going to be prohibitive right to Playmarket so that's on their radar that it's being asked for because that I guess will give us the that will you know allow us to have a conversation about with Playmarket as the publisher about where this is going to be needed and the print you know the print runs that are needed and that kind of thing

Stace: awesome I think that's bringing us to the end of our time together today so thank you Etta and Nathan for sharing your perspectives and insights and you know to Katie and everyone else who's put comments and questions in the chat this was really appreciated I hope that you'll all check out check out the resource Working Together: Accessibility in Aotearoa Theatre I think it's really nuanced guide and it's full of insights from Deaf and disabled artists and practitioners from around Aotearoa and as Etta said you know a lot of this this knowledge is deeply personal and in a lot of ways quite sacred so I hope it will be used with you know generosity and you know carefully considered and I think everyone will take something away from the guide whether they're disabled or not and whatever their level of disability awareness and access is and yeah as always Arts Access Aotearoa is available to support if you have questions or you're really keen to get started and you're not quite sure how or you want to take things to the next level and I'm just going to say another huge thank you to Etta and Nathan really appreciate your work on this kaupapa and your time today and also want to say thank you to Milly for your support in the background and to our interpreters for your support of the accessibility of our hui and yeah thank you everyone for joining today stay well and we'll be in touch soon.

 
 

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Stace Robertson: Stace is Lead Accessibility Advisor, Arts Access Aotearoa (T: 04802 4349 E: afa@artsaccess.org.nz). Stace works Monday to Thursday.  More about Stace

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Connect through music: this video was made by Lala Rolls of Island Productions Aotearoa for Arts Access Aotearoa and Chamber Music New Zealand.


Access for all:
“The good thing about being focused on access and accessibility is that you create a better experience for everybody,” says Philip Patston in this video, made by Lala Rolls of Island Productions Aotearoa for Arts Access Aotearoa. 

 

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