The Royal Court Theatre offers free touch tours and Audio Described (AD) performances for most of the shows we put on. Before the experiment, we’ve been relying on our small, existing database of access bookers and haven’t done much on audience development. On top of that we’ve got a video on our website introducing the touch tours which is very dated and no longer reflects the work we do.
We set ourselves the target of getting at least 10 people to book for the AD performance of Anatomy of a Suicide, and to attend the free touch tour before the show. We also wanted to use the opportunity to create a high quality video accessible to both blind and visually impaired people and other patrons, to spread the word about our access offering.
Just because a show is Audio Described doesn’t mean it will appeal to the regular theatregoers, let alone new audiences unfamiliar with the Royal Court. Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide has a complex form and a sensitive subject, and is a challenging piece even for our regular attendees.
On a personal level, I have only been with the Royal Court for six months at the time and didn’t know a lot about access marketing. I had to do a lot of research to familiarise myself with the conventions and terminologies around access.
I adopted a two-pronged approach: getting the word out and getting to know the stakeholders in the industry. We work very closely with Vocaleyes who provides our Audio Description. Vocaleyes has a good relationship with a lot of AD users who rely on their online theatre listing. I also reached out to different publications, charity organisations and borough-based sensory teams with ticket discounts.
Getting in touch with access officers working at different arts organisations, and charities working with blind or visually impaired people has opened many doors, and gave me lots of new ideas. The wonderful Access team from SOLT and Miranda, Access Officer of Almeida Theatre have given me a lot of help in particular.
We had a really great turnout of around 15 people to the touch tour, and a few AD users who decided to only come for the performance. It was a great experience for them as the entire cast attended the touch tour, and the attendees were able to explore the set and the many interesting props used in the play.
We’ve learnt a few things that will inform our audience development work in the future:
Plan in good time: it takes time for the word to get out, and access patrons in particular need more time to plan their trip.
Connect: it was great to speak to people who shared the same passion and understood the difficulties in getting access bookers. Rather than competing with each other, we can actually benefit from sharing resources and working towards the same goal together.
Get direct feedback from the patrons: I learnt a lot from speaking to just two patrons after the touch tour. For instance, I learnt that not all of them knew we offer AD performances for most productions; and that they don’t always get to meet the full cast at touch tours and when it happens it adds to the experience greatly.