Accessing Access by Paul O’Donnell

A theatre maker’s attempt to make his work more accessible, and how venues/organisations might be able to help

Paul O’Donnell is a solo theatre maker and over the past year, has been using Talking Birds‘ accessibility tool The Difference Engine to deliver captioning and audio description on every performance of the UK tour of his show We’ve Got Each Other. With funding from Arts Council England, he has created a resource pack for artists, companies and organisations to share the learning and experience he gained during the project. It also includes case studies and a list of other resources.

The Fear of Access

Hello, I’m Paul O’Donnell, a solo theatre maker, performer and producer who has set out on the task of trying to make my solo show We’ve Got Each Other more accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired audiences. The show was captioned and audio described using Talking Birds’ Difference Engine, which is covered in more detail on page 4.

My journey started at the East Meets West Symposium run by Little Earthquake in 2017, where I timidly raised my hand in a discussion about access. I explained that I, like a lot of artists, wanted to make my work more accessible, but felt there were two things that were preventing me from doing so: 1. the fear, and 2. the cost. I believe that these two barriers are prohibiting artists like me from giving it a try for fear of getting it wrong, saying/doing the wrong thing or being branded ‘tokenistic’, or being unable to sustainably resource access as an integral part of their practice; the cost of making the show more accessible for the 2019 tour consumed a big chunk of my under £15k ACE application – more on this later.

But, in that room the response I received was “Well, isn’t it better to do something than nothing at all?” and so I thought, “I guess I’d better do ‘something’ then”. My terrifying journey into ‘access’ had begun and I realised that to combat that fear of getting it wrong, I had to dive in head first, make all the mistakes and learn from them. I am still learning.

“Isn’t it better to do something than nothing at all?”

Since then I have:

  • Engaged in a process of making the audio descriptions and captions for We’ve Got Each Other a creative rather than just functional output.
  • Captioned and Audio Described all 23 shows in my 2019 UK tour of We’ve Got Each Other using the Difference Engine.
  • Welcomed in 38 audience members who usually wouldn’t be able to access my work.
  • Engaged 3 deaf or blind focus groups to refine this service and my understanding.

I should note that I am not deaf or blind myself and that I understand and believe that deaf and blind individuals need to be leading on discussions around their access requirements. I do however feel that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that access for all is considered in their creative work. In this pack, I am particularly following the social model of disability with the belief that deaf and disabled individuals are only disabled by the systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusions that society presents. This pack is me doing what I can to challenge and change those barriers.

This pack is in part me sharing the lessons learnt through this process with you, in the hope that if you were to consider embarking on your own journey, it might be just that little bit easier. I also hope to share some of the issues independent artists like me are facing in making access a natural part of their processes. Ironically enough, for independent artists like me access currently feels a little… inaccessible.

For venues/organisations, I hope this might also encourage you to consider what support you can offer independent artists to help combat these barriers in order to make this a sustainable part of all of our practices. I truly believe it can only be achieved as a sector-wide effort, and have to remind us that technically, by law, we all should have started ten years ago now (Equalities Act 2010).

Accessing Access Download the guide by Paul O’Donnell PDF 1,207kb Download

MBE Recognition For Rural Touring Sector

Champion of rural touring, John Laidlaw of Live & Local and National Rural Touring Forum (Sector) receives MBE in Queen’s Birthday 2019 Honours

The Queen’s Birthday Honours List recognises the achievements of a wide range of extraordinary people across the United Kingdom. Each recipient exemplifies the very best of our nation.

John has played a significant role in developing the rural arts touring sector in this country, helping bring local communities together to enjoy high-quality professional live theatre, music and dance shows.

John Laidlaw said:

‘Initially flabbergasted and then honoured and then when I found out how it had happened, hugely grateful to all the people who had supported the process. It’s great to be recognised personally for something that you’ve put most of your working life into… but I also think it is a great accolade for the Rural Touring sector. Without the dedication of many other people over many years getting the sector to the scale and respect it now has, the MBE wouldn’t have been possible.’

Holly Lombardo, Director of National Rural Touring (NRTF) said:

‘We are thrilled that someone in Rural Touring has been awarded such esteemed recognition. John has had such a huge and positive influence on the sector and the National Rural Touring Forum directly. His ten years at the helm of NRTF were instrumental in broadening the national feel and influence of the rural touring sector. We at NRTF feel this is acknowledgement for the whole sector and all who work tirelessly for Rural Arts’

About John Laidlaw:

John Laidlaw studied Estate Management, Geomorphology and Archaeology at Reading University between 1974 to 1978, but his love of student theatre led him to work as a stage manager, first at Butlins (Filey, North Yorkshire), and then at the De la Warr Pavilion in East Sussex. He then went to Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry ending up as acting Chief Electrician.

From 1985-1991, he was the Production Manager for the Tic Toc Theatre Company in Coventry who ran temporary performance spaces at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival each year. The company also produced small-scale touring theatre shows each year to equipped and non-equipped venues, two local community tours and ran their own alternative comedy club. The company converted an old bingo hall in Coventry into the Tic Toc which would later become the Kasbah Nightclub.

In 1992, he was contracted to run the touring scheme in Warwickshire ultimately becoming Executive Director of Live & Local which has now become one of the largest Rural Touring networks within the UK, working across eight counties in the Midlands. In a volunteer capacity, John served as Chair of the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) for a decade until July 2017. Through his work on the board and as Director of Live & Local he has helped to bring professional art and artists to under-served rural communities in every corner of the UK. Within his work for the NRTF he has also helped other countries to develop their rural touring networks, including Australia and New Zealand.

About Live & Local:

The Live & Local Rural & Community Touring Scheme began in 1992. It supports a network of voluntary organisations bringing their communities together to enjoy entertaining, affordable and professional live theatre, storytelling, music, dance and film screenings in their local village hall, church or school. Developing out of a Warwickshire scheme that had originally started in 1987, Live & Local expanded to Staffordshire in 1995, Derbyshire in 2002, Worcestershire in 2011, and Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland in 2015. Today Live & Local is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation co-ordinating over 650 theatre, music, film and dance performances in 250 rural communities across eight counties attended by around 34,000 people every year.

Live & Local initiated DART (Developing Artists & Art for Rural Touring) in 2013 thanks to initial funding from Worcestershire County Council. DART has supported nearly 50 artists/ companies wishing to work within rural communities, with mentoring, bursaries, and connections to audiences/ promoters. The initiative has also supported the creation of new and exciting work for rural/ community touring audiences.

Big Picture Show is a community cinema service provided by Live & Local which enables communities to programme films in their local halls, with everything needed from the technical set-up to marketing materials.

About National Rural Touring Forum:

National Rural Touring Forum is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation supporting and promoting the importance of professional rural arts and touring through a network of programming schemes. Each year, across the UK schemes work with 1,650 promoting groups, undertaking 110,000 voluntary hours, putting on productions to over 332,000 audience members who spend more than £1,000,000 on ticketed events. Rural touring is an innovative and thriving cultural sector equalling out opportunities for countryside audiences to access the arts.

Supporting quotes:

‘The rural touring sector is essential in ensuring that rurally isolated communities secure and maintain access to high-quality arts provision and the part John has played as Chair of NRTF has been essential in ensuring that these communities’ benefit from a nationwide network of support and provision.’ Peter Knott, Area Director, Midlands, Arts Council England

‘John has expanded the provision of high-quality arts and entertainment throughout the midlands bringing thousands of professional shows to under-served rural communities.’ David Porter, Company Secretary to the NRTF board

‘Through John’s leadership of the NRTF a strong cross-pollination of ideas and experiences has informed and enlivened the work that we do in Western Australia and is creating opportunities for UK artists and promoters in the UK and beyond.’ Philippa Maughan, Investment Director, Country Arts WA (Western Australia)

‘We are thrilled that someone in Rural Touring has been awarded such esteemed recognition. John has had such a huge and positive influence on the sector and the National Rural Touring Forum directly. His ten years at the helm of NRTF were instrumental in broadening the national feel and influence of the rural touring sector. We at NRTF feel this is acknowledgement for the whole sector and all who work tirelessly for Rural Arts’ Holly Lombardo, Director of National Rural Touring (NRTF)

ENDS

For interviews or more information please contact:
Johanna Dorey or Mollie Davidson at Live & Local on 01926 402 173
or email johanna@liveandlocal.org.uk / mollie@liveandlocal.org.uk
or Holly Lombardo, Director, National Rural Touring Forum. For more information contact holly@nrtf.org.uk 07905896303 (private number for Journalists only)

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. Live & Local should always be presented with an ampersand. The company is not known by any other variation of this spelling.
  2. Live & Local co-ordinates a rural & community touring scheme helping a network of over 250 village halls and community venues – in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire (Shindig), Leicestershire & Rutland (Centre Stage), Lincolnshire (Lincolnshire Rural Community Touring) and Nottinghamshire (Village Ventures) – choose and promote professional entertainment: from music, theatre, storytelling and dance, to magic, puppet and children’s & family shows. For more information visit: liveandlocal.org.uk
  3. Live & Local is one of over 27 similar schemes across the UK who are represented by the National Rural Touring Forum, making it possible for local people to enjoy professional performances in a venue close to home. Combined these schemes promote over 2,800 shows every year, enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people in over 2,000 rural communities from the Scottish Islands to the Isle of Wight. For more information visit: ruraltouring.org
  4. Live & Local shows are supported by County, District and Borough Councils, Arts Council England and local volunteer promoters.
  5. Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) is given for an outstanding achievement or service to the community. It is intended that this award will have a long-term, significant impact and stand out as an example to others. For more information visit: gov.uk/honours/types-of-honours-and-awards
  6. National Rural Touring Forum: NRTF is an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation that networks, supports and advocates for the rural touring sector and as an organisation this enables them to operate in a lean and environmentally sustainable way. HQ in Stanford Dingley is a walk commute for the Director, who works in a small but perfectly formed recycled summer house, with no carbon footprint and shows smart use of limited public funds and resource. This has inspired the provocation.

Twitter: @live_local @ruraltouring
Facebook: @live.local @ruraltouring

Spot On Lancashire: Digital Commission Call Out

Spot On have secured funding from Arts Council England to develop a new digital arts strand. This will be the first commission in what they hope will be a long series of commissions over the next few years.

The plan is for the finished piece to ‘tour’ to libraries and village halls across Lancashire in October/November 2019 with a possible launch during National Libraries Week in 7-12 October 2019. At the beginning of December, the work will be shared nationally as part of our new digital gallery on the Spot On Website.

Does this sound like something you might be interested in? Take a look at the full brief and make an application.

Deadline: Monday 1st July, 12 noon.

Download the brief ‘Spot On digital commission 2019 call out brief’ from the box on the right.

Arts Council England Chair supports vision for the sustainability of rural arts

Arts Council England Chair supports vision for the sustainability of rural arts during visit to brand new National Rural Touring Forum Head Quarters.

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chairman of Arts Council England, met with rural arts organisations at the headquarters of National Rural Touring Forum in the village of Stanford Dingley, West Berkshire. Sir Nick was joined by local ACE National Portfolio Organisations Water Mill Theatre, Corn Exchange Newbury, and personnel from cultural organisations such as LIVR, Metis Theatre, New Adventures, McCurdy & Co., Farnham Maltings and Julie’s Bicycle to discuss the sustainability of rural touring. The group spent time discussing green touring initiatives, the sustainability of rural arts, the relevance of professional rural touring and what it might look like in 10 years. The outcome is an aim for a greater understanding of the potential for rural and green touring in England.

One of the top priorities of NRTF is advocacy on behalf of the sector. The visit was inspired by the appointment of NRTF Director, Holly Lombardo, the migration of its headquarters to the South East and the alignment of the ambitions of the sector with Arts Council England’s 10 Year Strategy consultation.

“Rural communities make up nearly 20% of the UK population. Rural touring not only contributes to local economic growth it increases wellbeing, confidence and a sense of belonging in communities. Nick Sertoas visit marks an important shift in the value given to rural arts, and we are delighted to be leading the discussion”. Holly Lombardo, Director – National Rural Touring Forum.

During the meeting Sir Nick stated how important networks like the NRTF are for supporting the sector, sharing resources and the distribution of data.

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said: “Touring is an essential means for many people across the country to experience great arts and culture, particularly those who live in rural areas. But at the same time, we must take into consideration the environmental impact of touring. These calculations are complex, but It was incredibly positive to hear that these questions are front of mind for organisations like the National Rural Touring Forum and its stakeholders. I hope that we will continue to raise the profile and importance of touring, balancing any environmental impact against the need for people who live in rural areas to have the opportunity to experience art and culture”

NRTF is an ACE National Portfolio Organisation supporting and promoting the importance of the rural arts and touring sector. With 30 member schemes, 1,650 promoting groups, 110,000 voluntary hours, 332,000 audience, over £1,000,000 box office sales this is a thriving sector, that via high-quality programming and commissioning, delivers community cohesion in rural settings and touring opportunities for performing companies.

Across the UK there are currently 30 NRTF member schemes who annually work with 1,650 promoting groups, undertaking 110,000 voluntary hours, putting on productions to 332,000 audience members, who spend over £1,000,000 in box office sales.

To hear more about rural touring, please visit our website –  www.ruraltouring.org and watch our film https://www.ruraltouring.org/work/rural-touring-advocacy-film

Rural Touring Dance Initiative announces call out for artists

  • The consortium seeking to bring more dance to rural venues is on the lookout for artists to take part in its next phase
  • The project is supported by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring programme and an award from Arts Council Wales
  • The RTDI is keen to maintain a diverse programme and is interested in hearing from BAMER, disabled artists and those creating work suitable for children and families in particular

Application deadline: 12 noon, Thursday 5 th September 2019

The Rural Touring Dance Initiative (RTDI), a partnership between The Place, Take Art the National Rural Touring Forum and China Plate has launched a call out for dance artists to tour their work to rural
spaces across the UK. The project is made possible by a second major award from Arts Council England Strategic Touring program and an award from Arts Council Wales.

The project, which has previously supported artists including Lost Dog, Protein, Joan Cleville, Uchenna Dance and bgroup, is an opportunity to tour existing work to rural locations. In addition to guaranteed show fees there is a limited number of bursaries averaging £1200 for artists with existing shows to adapt shows for rural touring. Companies who have toured with the RTDI have averaged 7 supported shows with fees varying from £850 to £1400 depending on scale and cost. There is also a paid for residential workshop exploring touring dance to
rural locations to prepare artists for the experience.

The RTDI is keen to maintain a diverse programme and welcomes applications from disabled and BAMER artists. And in addition to its usual program for adult audiences is invested in touring work suitable for children and families.

The deadline for applications is midday on Thursday 5 Sep 2019. Artists will be notified that they have been selected for the 2020/21 menu the week commencing 7 Oct 2019, followed by a Practical Introduction to Rural Touring for Contemporary Dance Lab 13 – 15 November 2019 in Dorset.

For the RTDI, Project manager Claire Smith said “The RTDI is going from strength to strength –dance is being repeat programmed by promoters who would not have thought about promoting dance a few years ago
and audiences are loving it  – so apply and get involved ! “  

Find out how to apply here: https://www.theplace.org.uk/rural-dance-touring-initiative-call-out-artists

@Ruraltouring | #ruraldance | https://www.ruraltouring.org/

2018 Applause Outdoors – Commission Opportunities

New commission opportunities for Outdoors work

In summer 2018, Applause Rural Touring will be programming outdoor performances into existing, locally organised village fetes, community events and Festivals in Kent and Sussex. These events take place almost exclusively at weekends from May to September.

They are looking to commission companies/artists with an established interest and track record of working outdoors and interactively who would like to be part of this programme.

All work should entertain and engage audiences, be self-sufficient (i.e. not require technical or other support/involvement by the host organisation) and be able to be accessed by diverse, non-age specific audiences. They can be walk about or static productions but they are intended to suit a range of time frames(i.e. does not require the audience to arrive at a certain time and remain for a set amount of time).

For 2018 we are also looking to commission one new outdoor work inspired by spoken word that we can tour as part of our Inn Crowd project that brings exceptional live events to rural/community pubs – http://inncrowd.org.uk

We are offering the following opportunities and expect to take out between 6-8 shows this season:

1 x Inn Crowd (spoken word inspired outdoor work) – commission fee between £3000 – £6000
AO new commissions for outdoor works – commission fees between £3000 – £8000
AO reshaping/development awards for existing works that requires some reshaping to tour rurally – development fees between £500 – £2500
For full details on the application process, including information for companies, and application forms visit http://www.applause.org.uk/outdoors/

Deadline 5pm Sunday 1st October

Jackie Hagan wins Best Spoken Word Show at the Saboteur Awards

Jackie Hagan’s show Some People Have Too Many Legs, developed and toured as part of the NRTF and Contact Theatre partnership, has been awarded Best Spoken Word Show in the Saboteur Awards 2015.

The Saboteur Awards celebrate the best in independent literature (poetry, short stories and live performance) and winners are selected via a public vote.

Huge congratulations to Jackie from all of us here at the NRTF!