How To Relax At The Theatre
Edinburgh during the Fringe is unlike anything else. The sheer quantity and range of shows on offer is incredible. This year there are over 3873 shows. Lots of people I’ve spoken to have been overwhelmed by this huge choice and most are seeing several shows a day.
I’m not seeing more than one show a day. This is partly because I’m mindful of managing my pain and energy levels, but mainly because for me to feel safe and confident going to see any performance, there’s nearly always extra work to do.
There may be nearly 4000 shows this year, but only 52 of these are offering Relaxed Performances. This is just 1% of the Festival’s programme and it’s half the number there were last year.
Many of these are children’s shows or are not in wheelchair accessible venues. Most companies are only offering one or two relaxed dates in their run, and only three shows (including ours) in the entire Festival say that all their shows are relaxed.
I know from experience that while some of these performances are advertised as Relaxed, some companies won’t announce this and make it clear what that means at the start of the show. To me, it only works as a Relaxed Performance if an explanation is given at the start of every show. How does your audience know they can relax if you don’t let them know? And you might be cool about it as a performer, but if no one else knows there’s still the risk of people craning their necks and tutting disapprovingly at anyone who’s not perfectly still and quiet.
In advance of every show I’ve been to this Fringe I’ve contacted the company presenting it. I’ve explained that I’ve got Tourettes, let them know I’m coming, and asked for an announcement to be made at the start of the show. This is a reasonable adjustment I have a right to request under the Equality Act 2010.
I’m confident and comfortable in taking this extra step because I know that if I didn’t I wouldn’t feel able to go to see anything. I’m also aware that I’m in a unique and privileged position. I’m a performer myself, I know lots of people within the theatre world, I know its language, I know my rights, and I feel able to assert them (most of the time).
There are lots of people with Tourettes or other impairments who might not know how to ask a theatre company or venue to make a reasonable adjustment. So in case it’s useful for you, here are my top tips for the Fringe and beyond.
1. Choose a show you’d like to watch.
2. Look at the venue’s website to see if they have any relaxed performances on dates that work for you. If they don’t, decide what date and time you’d like to go.
3. Have a think about what sort of things you’d need to have in place for you to be able to enjoy the show – this might include anything on the list below, but they’ll be different depending on your individual requirements:
• An announcement at the start
• Being able to go in and out of the show as necessary
• Sitting near a door or at the end of a row
• Knowing the names of some of the staff so you know who to ask for if you need help
• Knowing in advance if the show has loud noises or bright lights
• Being able to take your seat first
4. Look on the venue’s website to see if they have an Access Team you can contact.
5. Email or phone the Access Team, or if they don’t have one, contact the box office.
6. Tell them the date, time and number of tickets you’d like to book. Also tell them about your access requirements.
7. You don’t have to tell them what condition or impairment you have, but if you feel comfortable doing so it might help them to understand what you need more quickly. I usually explain that I have Tourettes.
8. Tell them what you need. It can help if you use the term ‘reasonable adjustments’. I usually list these as simply as I can and explain why they are necessary. I also usually say that I’m happy for them to contact me if they need more information.
9. If you’re requesting an announcement then the company might ask for your help with the wording. I usually give two options, one that’s very general and says something like: “We celebrate the diversity of our audience and today we are joined by an audience member with Tourettes Syndrome, so if you hear any unusual noises that’s why. Enjoy the show.” And one that includes my name and is more personal – make sure you feel happy with what they are going to announce and that you know when the announcement will be made.
10. If you have any difficulties ask to speak the manager.
Remember you have a right to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made and that you are not asking for permission to go and see the show.
It shouldn’t be necessary to do this extra work, but I hope that every time we do it makes it a little easier for the next person who wants to see a show.
Without this approach my Fringe would’ve been a lot less full of joy, new ideas, and laughs. I got to see incredible shows like: Hot Brown Honey, Cosmic Scallies, Testosterone and The Shape Of Pain, and I fully recommend them all.
To all the companies that welcomed me to their shows, thank you, and to every Edinburgh Venue and performer, please let’s make it easier for people with different types of minds, bodies and access requirements to feel comfortable in our spaces.
I can’t wait for a Fringe where I can go to any show confident that I’m welcome without having to do the extra prep.