I set up Amplified Theatre in 2015 to combine my two great loves – theatre and music – and create work that would be inclusive and accessible to all. However, our debut show proved to be neither inclusive nor accessible.
It was above a pub where the only way in was up a flight of stairs and there were no captions or BSL interpreters in sight. Audio description? Nope. I had friends who wanted to come but literally couldn’t. I felt terrible.
The show was remounted later that year in a different venue without stairs, but, despite having digital projections, there were still no captions or interpreters to be seen. My friend, D/deaf actor Stephen Collins, decided to book a ticket anyhow and asked if he could read the script beforehand. When evaluating the project, it dawned on me that I could have used the digital projections more effectively. I could’ve put song lyrics or dialogue on the slides. It was under my nose all along.
When working on our next project, I asked Stephen if he would help me create these captions ,and once we agreed on a suitable font, size and colour, we began copying and pasting six short plays onto hundreds (and hundreds) of PowerPoint slides, which would be projected onto the back wall of the venue. Our DIY approach instantly made the work available to a much wider audience and finally our mates could watch.
It’s that easy. Most fringe venues have projectors and if they don’t, companies can invest in one. We bought ours from Maplin (RIP) and now all of our shows are captioned. Through making my projects more inclusive and accessible I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with some incredible talent such as Tom Wentworth, Michael Southan, John Kelly, Amy Bethan Evans and Joshua Ratcliffe.
This can’t just be the responsibility of disabled artists, we all have a responsibility to make theatre more accessible both on and off stage. It needs to be part of the process and not an afterthought. I was once told by someone that it was “too much effort” and that they couldn’t afford to have someone operate the captions every night. My response was to do it themselves. If you genuinely care about making ‘theatre for everyone’ then your director or producer will show up every evening and press that space bar. I do, at every performance. You just need to want to do it.
Having a low or no budget forces you to be creative, to think differently. That’s when you discover the good stuff. We have since introduced a familiarisation of the set before each performance as an alternative to a touch tour and quite simply will not produce work in venues where wheelchair users can’t access the space. If we want to see the world we live in represented on stage and in our audience, then it’s up to us to make it happen.