Disabled actor and writer Athena Stevens has revealed how she has to crawl to the stage at a major London fringe venue because of its lack of access.
Currently performing in her show Scrounger at Finborough Theatre, she told The Stage she had ”crawled up and down the stairs for the show every night,” because her bespoke wheelchair cannot be lifted to the stage.
The 50-seat theatre, which shares the 152 year-old building with the Finborough Arms pub, can only be reached by ascending 23 steps.
“I love the Finborough Theatre – I am a resident writer [there] so I knew about the access problems. I work there in spite of that because there is no entry-level venue that has its opportunities, and I’ve had so much support from it,” Stevens said.
She added: I understand that the National Theatre is accessible, that’s great, but you can’t get there until you’ve earned your stripes at [places like the Finborough]. Some venues are lauded for having so much accessibility, and they don’t. We need to stop saying isn’t this nice, and the Arts Council needs to start withholding funding until theatres make their venues as accessible as possible.”
Stevens also described the Finborough Arms’ lack of accessible toilets as “perpetuating discrimination”.
In a statement, the venue’s artistic director Neil McPherson said: “I should stress that we have an excellent and close working relationship with the pub (the theatre and the pub are two entirely separate businesses), and it’s only fair to point out that they have been hugely helpful and supportive of the special requirements needed for Athena’s show.
“We did, however, very strongly disagree with their fait accompli of removing the ground floor toilets, which has cost us many long-standing customers.”
The owner of the pub is believed to have replaced the ground-floor, accessible toilet with a kitchen, without the consent of Kensington and Chelsea council, on the grounds that it was not frequently used, as reported by Disability News.
“It just isn’t good enough. My show is about all they ways people are complicit by not taking action, and avoiding confrontation. This is absolutely evidence of this,” Stevens said.
She added that accessible toilets were “always a problem” in fringe venues and some West End theatres, and that theatres often provided only “temporary solutions”.
Stevens cited a lack of funding and inadequate infrastructure as causes for slow access development.
“This is about the fact that our industry has a real problem in that we are saying we want diverse writers, but the entry level [venues] don’t have the architecture or funding to support that,” she said.
McPherson told The Stage the theatre had applied for £6,000 to install an accessible stair climber as part of Kensington and Chelsea council’s 2018 City Living, Local Life funding scheme, but had been turned down.
A spokesman from Kensington and Chelsea council told The Stage: “Applications for City Living, Local Life funding are assessed by officers who present their findings to ward councillors. They then use that information and their local knowledge to make a final decision about which projects are successful.
“An application from Finborough Theatre was received on June 5, 2018, and presented to the Redcliffe ward councillors for consideration. They decided not to fund the project and this decision was passed on to the theatre. We would be happy to speak with the theatre to find out more about its plans and provide any advice we can.”
The Finborough Arms has not responded to requests for comment.