Jack Dean: Grandad and the Machine – Incorporating Access

Jack Dean during a performance of Grandad and the Machine

We caught up with Jack Dean ahead of his upcoming performances of ‘Grandad and the Machine’ as we wanted to know just how he’s found incorporating access into his new show.

Catch Jack and the show at Camden People’s Theatre this Wednesday and Thursday at 9pm.

This is the first time you have really thought about making a show accessible, is that right? Why do you think that is?

That is right. Despite being disabled, I’d never really thought about making the show accessible to people facing different barriers than myself. I suppose this comes from an inherent prejudice that is around widely in public life. Unlimited pushed me to do something about this and confront the challenge of accessibility head on, like a big angry Rhino of diversity. That may not be the best metaphor.

What thoughts did you have when Unlimited first asked you to consider access for audiences?

I panicked a tiny bit – having never properly incorporated access into my shows, I didn’t have the first clue on where to start. Fortunately there was lots of advice on hand on how to get the ball rolling.

So tell us about the piece – what’s it about, what happens, what access challenges does it present?

The show is set in a plutocratic, dystopian version of Britain, where the technological progress of the 20th century was eaten up by war and greed and the island is a colony of the Corporation of London. When a giant death robot comes out of the English Channel and heads northward, a little girl and her father take a parallel journey to Grandad’s house. All these characters end up connected in a way that would be totally spoilerific for me to tell you, so you’ll have to come and see it to find out.

As a big, bombastic show with a lot of visual and sonic elements merging (including eight musical instruments, 18 lights and a smoke machine), it comes with all kinds of problems in terms of access. Essentially, the bits where visual and verbal metaphor intersect have to be brought to life in new ways so that they’re not lost on audiences with different impairments.

Tell us about how you have approached access for blind or visually impaired audiences…

As a storytelling piece, the show fortunately kind of comes with audio description throughout. But making sure it was consistent meant picking through the script and injecting a few key lines to allow the visually impaired to follow the action. What was cool about this is it has probably made the story clearer for everyone.

Tell us about how you have approached access for deaf and partially deaf audience members…

This was more challenging, as the show has a fairly dense text, not just in terms of having 9000 words crammed into it, but in terms of having lots of unconventional use of language, something I take from people like Dylan Thomas and Saul Williams and runs through most of my work. What we’ve ended up doing is providing a copy of the playtext that deaf audience members can take in for free to read along with the show. I didn’t want to just give people a wodge of A4, so I enlisted the help of Pat Cullum, who illustrated all of my promotional content, to design the book, and the indie spoken word label Burning Eye to publish. The results are pretty nifty, and you can even borrow a little pen light to read it with in the auditorium. We’ve also got a travelling t-loop system which should help give better sound quality to those who need it.

The traditional routes for access for hearing impaired people are to offer sign language translation and also captioning – why did you feel those would be less suitable in this case.

A guideline Unlimited gave me was the the access should fit the show, not the other way round. As a show with so many words in, and one where the focus really needs to be fully on the performers, neither of these traditional approaches seemed appropriate. So we got a bit creative, and went for stuff that would support the show’s strengths and not distract from them.

What have you learnt about yourself/the work by thinking about access?

It’s hard, and you should never be complacent about it. The stuff we’ve done may not work as it should initially, so we’re really keen to get feedback and keep improving things as the tour goes on. It made me use my imagination to think about how others experience the world, much like art at its best does, so was valuable in that way too.

Where can people experience the show?

Next stop is Camden People’s Theatre, Wednesday 14 – Thursday 15 October. After that we’re going all over the place next year, so watch this space.


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