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Theatres must improve access (your views, November 23)

Rosalie Craig and Samuel Barnett read an extract from Moira Buffini's Dinner as part of the Stagetext caption testing. Photo: Heather Judge Just 21% of theatres surveyed mentioned that they offered captioning for some productions. Photo: Heather Judge
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I was saddened but not remotely surprised to read that 25% of theatre websites “fail disabled fans”. I would go further and say many theatres themselves are failing disabled fans.

For someone who is learning disabled or physically disabled, simply getting to a theatre can be stressful. Disabled patrons need to know they are welcome and that the theatre management acknowledges their needs. None of us wants to go where we are not wanted.

A year ago, I contacted 16 theatres across the UK that did not detail access performances on their websites. Of these, four now offer relaxed performances and are considering staging dementia-friendly work. A further six felt there was no local demand for relaxed performances (despite not having contacted special schools or carers’ organisations in their areas) and all but one of the others offer access performances, including relaxed performances, but don’t advertise them. I’m not quite sure how they expect to attract an audience when they provide a complete lack of information about their programme. The final theatre said it ran one performance for hearing-impaired people each year and considered this sufficient.

Much of my time is spent supporting theatres to stage relaxed performances. To read that only 17% of professional theatres contacted by the charity VocalEyes offer relaxed performances leaves me deeply depressed and frustrated at the lack of ambition and commitment from theatres that choose not to engage with a growing proportion of the population.

More of the UK population than ever before has access needs and this demographic will increase over time. Our population is ageing and the need for dementia-friendly and captioned performances is growing. As medical interventions and life expectancy for children born with physical and intellectual disabilities improve, more children, young people and adults will want to access theatre through relaxed performances.

Lifelong theatregoers who develop dementia do not lose their love of theatre but need adaptations to enable them to continue to enjoy their passion. Families who have a child with additional needs still want to enjoy a show together and they often appreciate the safe space provided by a relaxed performance. Access programmes don’t simply fulfil a moral duty: they make huge commercial sense too.

For audiences to enjoy accessible programming, they need to know it exists and to feel theatres want them there. If relaxed or dementia-friendly performances are not promoted via the theatre’s website and targeted marketing, few people know about them. Venues need to make people feel that they are truly welcome. Theatre belongs to all of us.

Annie Bannister
Access consultant

Body comments are fair game

Body-commenting is not the same as body-shaming. When casting, I take every aspect into account – face, voice, body and mannerisms – to match the actor as closely as I can to the character. Of course there are cases where a characteristic is irrelevant to the part, but no matter who we choose, the audience will react to the whole individual and not just part of them. This holistic approach is how we as human beings understand and function in the world around us.

Mark Shenton: Is body shaming ever appropriate in reviews?

Matt Trueman was right to comment on Nick Holder’s appearance as the latter’s appearance is essential to his portrayal of Vanya. I did not consider this a criticism of him as an actor any more than I have felt body-shamed when reviews of my acting have commented on my bald head; I know that my follicly challenged dome is the reason I get cast in some parts and not in others. Mention it as much as you like.

Saying an individual is inferior because of the way they look is inappropriate and unacceptable. Body-commenting – remarking on someone’s appearance without implying criticism – is not only acceptable but essential to our understanding of the differences that make us what we are. Intelligent reviewers and readers can tell the difference between the two.

Michael Foreman
Via thestage.co.uk

Old Vic board

As a supporter of the Old Vic, I am deeply disturbed by the lack of clarification concerning Kevin Spacey. Serving on other theatre boards, I find it hard to believe board members were unaware of any misconduct. They should resign and a new board should be put in place.

Pamela Jackson
Email address supplied

Quote of the week

Denise Gough. Photo: Manuel Harlan

“I was badly bullied by a director. The room he created was deeply misogynistic. I was constantly undermined and humiliated. I did speak up, and the people around him told me: shut up, be careful. I’d love to bump into him again and see how scared he is at the moment. I was bullied by a female too. Bullying doesn’t have to be sexual.”
Actor Denise Gough (The Guardian)

“One of the biggest communities in terms of hard to reach are white working class, from low socio-economic backgrounds. We rightly talk a lot about diversity now, but that’s sort of the invisible area of diversity, and as a working-class city, that’s really important to us.”
Artistic director Sam Hodges, speaking at the London launch of Southampton Nuffield Theatres’ new season

“Writing has been a wonderful surprise for me – I absolutely love it. I think being a performer has helped hugely. If I do a really bad bit of writing, I know it pretty quickly once I’ve said it aloud.”
Writer and actor Naomi Sheldon (ThisWeek London)

“Theatre needs to pay more attention to mid-career artists and companies. If major organisations turn their attention to first time artists or early artists solely and veterans, then the middle will lose out and never become veteran. All we will have is novices learning their craft.”
Playwright Luke Barnes (Twitter)

“It is a fascinating part of the production that we are watching other people watching, or sometimes not if they are having their pudding while Bryan [Cranston] is having a nervous breakdown in front of them.”
Actor Douglas Henshall on Network at the National Theatre (Evening Standard)

“One of the first conversations I had when I took over the theatre was with Stella Duffy, who runs Fun Palaces. One of the things that she pointed out to me was that if you’re funded by the Arts Council, you’re owned by the people, because it’s their money that keeps the theatre running… you want that building to feel as accessible and open as a public library.”
Ellen McDougall, artistic director at the Gate Theatre, London (Exeunt)

“Beginning to feel as if the more sexual predators are revealed, the lower the chances our culture will take in the reality of it.”
Playwright Christopher Shinn (Twitter)

What you said on Facebook

About Mark Shenton’s column on how to deal with sexual harassment allegations…

This is simply trial by media and trial by public opinion – neither of which are particularly well-informed. Maybe a few of the accused stars should raise legal action against the organisations that have apparently assumed their guilt without trial, and have, as a result, irreparably damaged the career of the individuals concerned.
James Bell

Harassment of any sort is completely unacceptable but allegations are not the same as convictions. To call for a boycott of a production, you need 100% proof of an individual’s guilt. If you can’t support a production based on allegations then that’s a personal choice, but to expect everyone to boycott without solid proof either way is a knee-jerk reaction.
Matthew Bird

About our Green Room panellists’ discussion of whether theatre is well represented on television…

We need more theatre on TV – British theatre  is the best in the world.
Nicola Clayton

Sadly, it isn’t shown enough. The BBC used to televise good plays and music hall.
Val Chapman Smith

About Mark Shenton’s column on whether screen actors can be successful in theatre…

Actors are trained to be flexible. I don’t agree they should be restricted at all.
Victoria Sigsworth

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