It’s never too late to relax, even whilst trying out a new experiment with your venue’s audiences. Audience Diversity Academy Fellow, Sairah Rehman, explains how she achieved this at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
We had already confirmed that we would be doing a relaxed performance next year during our panto run earlier in 2016. However, just before my taking part in the Audience Diversity Academy (ADA), HighTime, one of our Springboard Companies (emerging artists that we support through providing training opportunities, office space and assistance in developing productions), received funding to do a relaxed performance of one of their shows. An opera company that works to make theatre more accessible to everyone, HighTime was excited to be doing something new – relaxed operas are not nearly as common relaxed pantomimes, for example.
A relatively short lead up to the performance and no time to spare, I began a process of getting in touch with various disabled groups around Coventry and Warwickshire. Utilising all of my community contacts, I started trying to get the word out – and as with all relaxed performances, there were special prices for this show, with additional special offers that we talked through in our department.
Slightly complicating things was the fact that this was not a home-production in the traditional sense, but one we were working on with a company. This meant that we had to co-ordinate and work together to get audiences for this show. Pooling resources was very helpful, and being able to bring a more personal touch to getting in touch with people was invaluable.
We were lucky in that the person who ran our relaxed performance training is also very well connected with special schools and disabled groups across Coventry and Warwickshire, and we were also able to consult him on how to connect with different groups. The training itself went really well, and staff ended up a lot more comfortable and confident in how to best support those with autism in particular.
A final push at our half term family day, where we invited families in to the theatre for free activities and had staff telling families about the performance, meant that we were able to play to a sizeable audience (considering that we had to reduce capacity for the relaxed performance to be relaxed).
The performance itself was a success, and puts us in a much stronger position for our larger relaxed performance of panto next year. Staff reported lovely responses to the show, including some who were happy to be able to bring their child to a show that was catered to their needs.
An immensely rewarding experience, all of my experiments on the ADA have left me feeling that I have done some good for our local community, and the Belgrade’s first ever relaxed performance was no exception.