A level Access with the Producer School

Jo Verrent addressing a room of people with her hands outstretched
Photo by Rachel Cherry for Unlimited.

Last week Jo Verrent ran a session for the Producer School focusing on how to be genuinely inclusive, creative and practical and ensure access is at the heart of what all producers do as part of their standard practice. So what tips can we pass on?

Nothing better than being in a room with committed, passionate, enthusiastic and determined producers wanting to engage and improve their practice. After a quick overview of what we do at Unlimited – and some of our high and low lights, the group split into two to consider two sides of the same coin – working with disabled artists and ensuring access for disabled audiences.

Group one were given the challenge of considering this question: how do I best undertake my future work as a producer in respect to supporting disabled artists? Here are ten of their top tips:

  1. Get the balance right: protect your artist/s and get their needs met but don’t take decisions that are theirs to take or become over protective
  2. Use varied communication channels and styles – it’s up to you to flex, not people with different communication needs
  3. Recognise that some things might take more time – don’t get into a situation where you are pressuring people simply because you’ve not allowed enough time
  4. Not every disabled person is comfortable being labelled as such or know what’s available in relation to their access needs
  5. Even if you don’t know what people’s needs are – create accessible environments anyway, what have you got to lose?
  6. Get advice, but feel free to hack it – not even ‘experts’ know everything
  7. If someone is getting Access to Work, support them with the admin because it can be a real distraction if you are trying to ‘be an artist’ and simultaneously fill in a heap of forms
  8. Think about a care line in budget – to cover access for disabled people but also childcare, support for those with caring responsibilities and so on
  9. Think about paid recovery time within budgets for those artists who really need to rest up after exhausting work
  10. And when you see ‘bad practice’, think about ‘calling in’ not ‘calling out’ – make it a dialogue, find out why, offer support and guidance rather than simply shaming it

 

Group two looked at: how do I best undertake my future work as a producer in respect to supporting disabled audience members? And ten tips from them:

  1. Always ask ‘how adaptable is a piece of work?’ right from the start. And push yourself to flex as much as you can within the aesthetic of each piece
  2. Experiment! Don’t just go for ‘off the shelf’ access solutions, they might not be the best fit for the work
  3. At the very least, you can always offer access to a script and to a synopsis for performance/film work, and to a written description of what’s happening for installations/visual arts
  4. Think about seating, if appropriate: flexible seating plans, easy access seats, seating options for multi-sited work
  5. Breakdown preconceptions of access needs – it’s not all about ramps and sign language interpreters and recognise you can’t always ‘spot’ people who need support
  6. Map good venues and work with their Front of House teams to create a network of support
  7. Evaluate what you provide and how it’s being received
  8. Develop long term relationship with access providers – that way they’ll have a better understanding of what you are trying to achieve and be able to be more flexible and accommodating
  9. Its ok to target audience groups – if you have a piece that would be particularly suitable for visually impaired audiences, then make a real effort to reach out to them (free tasters, find community champions and nurture them) – but make it part of a long term strategy – don’t just pick people up and drop them
  10. Know what’s in your control and what isn’t. Do the best you can to make what is within your control as accessible as you can as a matter of course, and communicate it well

 

Top tips for all producers, I think you’ll agree, not just emerging ones. Imagine the difference in the work if every producer took all these on…

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