Changemakers is an Arts Council programme which looks at increasing the diversity of senior leadership in art and culture by developing a cohort of leaders who are Black, minority ethnic and/or disabled by means of a targeted senior leadership training and development programme.
It’s quite strange to go into any organisation and be labelled a ‘Changemaker’ because I think the only thing that causes change are the communities where a theatre is based. However, now that I’m here I suppose my hopes are symbiotic with the RET in many ways – what are the things that we’re good at? What are the things that we’re on a journey on? What are the things that we need to start doing?
In all cases with any theatre show, it all starts with the director’s passion for that particular play. The cast are then chosen which leads to structuring the rehearsals so that the right level of access support is in place. This is crucial as then we can start playing with the form – who is signing for who? What are the family signs? When does someone need audio description on stage and when does the audio description work for only off stage?
It can feel unfamiliar for what might be described as ‘traditional audiences’ as it might be the first time they’ve seen a visibly disabled actor on stage. Added to that are the different access elements that are provided as part of the show – sign language, audio description, creative captioning – so it feels like a sensory feast as many elements are present and aren’t hidden or sidelined. I think that’s quite a good metaphor for the positive aspects of the social model of disability: disabled people are hidden or sidelined by others whether it’s a physical barrier or attitudinal. Graeae rightly places performers and access centre stage.
You’ve just got to find that gem. There perhaps is a tendency to think that challenges means bad. Actually, it gives the process a rigour as every production needs to stand up to the scrutiny of the audience watching. Deaf and disabled performers generally get on with it because that’s what they’ve done in life. If anything the challenges are in the wider industry and the gross disparity of training and professional opportunities offered. That is a huge challenge!
I think the strangest thing is that perhaps artists forget that they are audience members too. Whether you’re in a 90 seater or a 760 seater, each audience member has a different and similar experience of many things.
If you’ve never seen a Deaf or disabled performer or a Black, Asian performer or whatever acronym is being used to reduce the cultural expression of a specific community my instinct is to say ‘you’re missing out!’ But I recognise my experience is not everyone’s. So that’s why diversity matters. It shouldn’t and mustn’t be reduced down to the look of a certain person. Rather, it should present an opportunity to recognise that we’re all part of society irrespective of our backgrounds and we should be writing people into our future as challenging our history so that it tells the full story rather than a reduced one instead.