Accessibility Innovation in Media and Creative Arts

Focus Area Four
Accessibility Innovation in the Arts (Part Two)

Deepening your Understanding

Typically, theatre, stage, symphony and musical performances have specific audience etiquette. According to the Emily Post Institute, acceptable audience behavior at a performance includes: no talking unless participation is requested by the performer; sitting straight and upright in the seat; no food including candy boxes and snacks; no sounds including chewing gum, tapping feet, drumming fingers, humming and singing along, turning pages in the program and slurping drinks (Emily Post Institute, n.d.).

This section will examine relaxed performance, designed to welcome audience members who benefit from a less restrictive audience environment and inclusive musical performance, where the audience is invited on stage to feel the vibration of the instruments.

Relaxed Performance

Relaxed performances were initially designed to make theatre spaces more comfortable and welcoming to audience members with autism spectrum disorder but others who benefit include people with dementia, people with Tourette’s syndrome, people who experience anxiety, parents and children, first time theatre goers, people who are afraid of the dark or of loud noises or people who are not comfortable with the conventions of a traditional theatre setting. Many people choose to attend a relaxed performance as an access requirement or because they prefer an inclusive environment (The National Theatre, n.d.).

Performances are usually performed as written, with some accommodations and modifications. These may include:

  • The cast may come on stage before the play starts, introduce the play and describe what they are wearing in character.
  • The house lights may stay on for the entire performance and strobe and flash lighting are avoided.
  • Audience members may leave their seats at any time and move to another area of the venue and there is a designated quiet area if needed.
  • Music may be quieter and sudden, loud sounds are avoided. And people may wear sound cancelling headphones during the performance if they like.
  • The audience can use their cell phones or other devices during the performance.
  • Participation, singing and dancing is encouraged.
  • The audience may be invited up on stage.
  • A visual story guide or fact sheet written in plain language with large print and photographs of the venue is available online prior to the performance so the audience members can familiarize themselves with the location and what to expect at the performance. Here is an example of a Visual Story Guideopen new window for the Soulpepper Theatreopen new window in Toronto.

— Adapted from The National Theatre, UKopen new window and Theatre Passe Murailleopen new window, Toronto

In 2016, in partnership with Harbourfront Centre, the British Council office in Canada invited Include Arts from the UK to host a Relaxed Performance training with theatre and performance organizations from Ontario. This programme was inspired by the advancement in policy changes and actions towards disability arts in the UK with the objective building diverse audiences, improving access for all and enabling shared experiences (British Council, 2016).