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‘Relaxed’ performances make theatre accessible


Reported by Robert

Published on Friday, January 14th, 2022

Equality Family Leisure Access
Blogs

‘Relaxed’ performances make theatre accessible


Written by Robert

Published on Friday, January 14th, 2022

Equality

Family

Leisure Access

Ellie and family members and support workers
Ellie with family members and support workers at Sadler’s Wells dance theatre in Islington. (Photo by Alex Rumford)

Last week, my family and some support workers took my daughter Eléonore (or Ellie) to Sadler’s Wells dance theatre in Islington to watch the ballet ‘Nutcracker!’ – a late Christmas treat.

If I told you that Ellie yelled out “Here we go!” and “Hello!” and “Mummy” 500 times during the course of the performance, I would not be exaggerating.

No-one in the audience tut-tutted; no member of staff asked her to be quiet; none of the dancers was distracted.

Too many times in ‘normal’ performances, members of the audience have complained about Ellie’s enthusiastic responses. Typical comments include “Your daughter should be sitting at the back.”

Let me explain.

We had taken Ellie, our 31 year old daughter with severe learning disabilities, to a relaxed performance of a full two hour ballet show at one of this country’s top dance theatres. A relaxed performance is one which helps people with learning disabilities or are on the autistic spectrum or who have dementia to enjoy drama, music and dance. There are not the usual restrictions on the audience to (putting it bluntly) sit down, stay still and keep quiet.

Too many times in ‘normal’ performances, members of the audience have complained about Ellie’s enthusiastic responses. Typical comments include “Your daughter should be sitting at the back.” and “We’ve paid a lot of money for these tickets.” Ellie is blithely unaware of these remarks, but we find them incredibly stressful.

Accessibility and acceptance are words that Ellie can’t understand, but they are so fundamental to her quality of life.

 

Photo of Ellie at the theatre
Ellie enjoying an ice cream at the theatre.

In the relaxed ‘Nutcracker!’ performance, the theatre lights were slightly dimmed rather than turned off, there was a chill-out area for people who needed a bit of calm, audience noise and movement were accepted without fuss; and there were plenty of staff and volunteers to help people find their places or store their wheelchairs.

Most impressive was the appearance on stage of two dancers before the start of the ballet. They explained that they played nasty characters but that they themselves were just acting. In fact, they were really nice people.

Photo of Sadlers Wells dance theatre
Sadler’s Wells dance theatre. (Source David Hawgood / Sadlers Wells Theatre, Rosebery Avenue)

The relaxed performance was organised by Mousetrap Theatre Projects. Their aim is to offer a supportive, understanding and welcoming atmosphere for all.

“We’re so happy that young people like Ellie could enjoy a wonderful afternoon in the theatre with their families.  Nutcracker! is a fantastic production and we are thrilled that over 200 families had similar experiences in being part of such an enthusiastic and engaged audience,” Susan Whiddington CBE, Chief Executive, Mousetrap Theatre Projects.

All in all, Ellie had a fabulous, noisy, entertaining Sunday afternoon (and so did we and her support workers).

Accessibility and acceptance are words that Ellie can’t understand, but they are so fundamental to her quality of life.

Written by Robert


I'm the father of three, the youngest being my 30 year old daughter Eléonore. Ellie has profound and multiple learning disabilities, suffers frequent and unpredictable epilepsy, and she's also visually and hearing impaired. She is unable to tell her own stories about her life in Camden. I want to tell them for her by being a community reporter. I have been retired for over ten years. Half my working life was spent in business and half in the charity world. Now (Covid allowing) I volunteer in local environmental projects and support people to improve their spoken English or develop their basic computer skills.

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