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Growing BSL audiences #ADA

ADA Fellow Parvati Pindoria explains how the Octagon reached out to the D/deaf community in Bolton to find out why BSL performances were the least attended of the Octagon’s accessible performances.

The beginning
Before joining the Audience Diversity Academy (ADA), we had already identified, as a theatre some of the audiences that we wanted to develop by looking at the results of our annual Audience Survey and seeing the gaps that existed. We decided we wanted to see more audiences from BAME backgrounds, more young people and audiences with additional needs.

The problem
Like many theatres, we put a lot of time into arranging accessible performances for all of our productions. Looking at the attendance figures for our BSL, Audio Described and Captioned performances we realised we weren’t reaching the people that we were providing this service for. Often, promoting our accessible performances came as an after-thought to our original campaign plan, which was too late in the day to be effective. We were too caught up in our usual routine of marketing activity to pay close attention to why we weren’t reaching these and audiences and how we could do that.

The challenge
The Octagon is undergoing a major redevelopment and one of the main reasons we are overhauling the building is so that our space can be completely accessible for our patrons and staff. Before we go back into the building in 2020, I wanted to find out how we can bring down the barriers that prevent people from accessing our work. Our BSL performances were the least well attended of our accessible performances so we started an investigation about how we could reach the D/deaf community in Bolton and what might prevent them from or encourage them to attend one of our events.

We decided we needed to find out more about the d/Deaf community and think about how we were going to tailor our communications to d/Deaf people.

We started a conversation with the Bolton Deaf Society, a local organisation providing health, social and employment services to hundreds of people in the d/Deaf community in Bolton every week. We found out that one in six of us have some form of deafness and this increases, as we get older. With 62% of our audiences aged 55 and above, we realised that this group is really important to the Octagon. The Bolton Deaf Society was really enthusiastic to collaborate with us and help spread the word about our services. From this initial conversation, we decided we needed to find out more about the d/Deaf community and think about how we were going to tailor our communications to d/Deaf people. We invited a group of service users from Bolton Deaf Society to attend one of our BSL performances and arranged a meeting for a few days after their visit to get their feedback on the experience. We had five new attenders to our BSL performance, this was the first time they had experienced the Octagon and for some of them it was their first time at the theatre at all.

From the initial moment when they stepped into the venue they encountered problems. We gained feedback on our website, posters and flyers, Front of House operations, the positioning of the seats we had reserved for them, the positioning of the signer in relation to the action, the quality of the signing and their experience of the show. The feedback was invaluable!  We identified so many areas for improvement and most importantly gained insight into the perspective of the people we wanted to reach. We had invited this group to come for free but they told us that the cost of the ticket was going to be one of the biggest barriers preventing d/Deaf people from attending. We knew it was important to feed this information back to the rest of our organisation and as a start we set about making changes to our communications about access performances so that they were more purpose built and targeted.

The bigger picture
We knew the changes that we needed to make were bigger than creating bespoke marketing materials. We applied for and secured funding from Ambition for Ageing for an intervention that meant we could create a long lasting relationship with the older d/Deaf community in Bolton. The funding meant that we could offer free tickets to over 50s in the d/Deaf community who would need to attend a Captioned or BSL interpreted performance. With support from Bolton Deaf Society the funding has also enabled us to arrange staff training on welcoming d/Deaf audiences, hire a BSL interpreter to welcome BSL users to performances, filmed BSL information videos about our organisation for our website and arranged a BSL interpreted meet and greet with the cast of our next production.

The aim is to bring access to the forefront of our whole organisation.

The future
We had 10 declared BSL users at the BSL performance of our festive production, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and we hope that this number will keep growing as we continue to grow our offer and deepen our relationship with the d/Deaf community. The aim is to bring access to the forefront of our whole organisation. I am looking forward to going back into our new building where we will have more opportunities to seek and improve how we serve our community.

BSL video information




Parvati Pindoria is Communications Officer at the Octagon Theatre Bolton.

Images courtesy of Octagon Theatre Bolton ©. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Octagon Theatre Bolton, 2018.