We got back yesterday after almost three months of touring our new show Burnt Out In Biscuit Land (BOBL). When we set out for the first stop back in April I had no idea how audiences would respond to the show. It was nerve-wracking and exciting to be sharing creative work again after the disruption of the last few years.
It had been a long time since we last toured, and my body and access requirements have changed a lot since then. In addition being Clinically Extremely Vulnerable to COVID added new layers of complexity.
We were supported to make and tour the show by the Collaborative Touring Network (CTN) a group of producers working across the UK. Since getting back I’ve been reflecting on everything we did that made this tour accessible for me. I’m sharing it here in case it’s useful for other disabled artists:
1) Access Riders and Tech Riders – Access Riders share an artist’s access requirements in a single document. I have one as an individual artist and Touretteshero also has one for the company as a whole.
My Access Rider includes a requirement for wheelchair accessible spaces and my need to sleep for two hours each afternoon. Our organisational access rider includes things like the length of time we need to respond to emails, who to communicate with, and how information should be shared with us.
Most productions have a Tech Rider that describes the space and equipment required. Ours also includes things that relate to access, like having a chill-out space for our audience and an accessible toilet backstage.
The first time we went on tour I could only access half of the venues in the same way as my non-disabled colleagues could, and this took a toll on me physically and emotionally. During the BOBL tour Access Riders helped to make sure that our requirements were met everywhere we went so we were all able to focus on the show.
2) Reimagining Touring Schedules and Pace – When we started making and touring shows we were guided by our producers and partners about the structure our tours should have. This followed a pattern that’s typical in the sector, with several performances each week, setting up and performing the show on the same day, and travelling without time to rest. This way of working isn’t possible for me due to my pain and energy levels. So, we worked with the CTN partners to create a manageable schedule. For the BOBL tour this was:
• Travel day
• Rest day
• Performance day
• Performance day
• Travel day
This meant we were in each tour location for about a week and had enough time to settle in. We thought carefully about the start time of each show so that it didn’t end too late. Each venue provided our evening meal on show days so that the timing worked smoothly and we didn’t need to use energy trying to sort out our meal and could focus on the show.
3) Building The Right Team – Having enough people with the right skills was also super-important. We didn’t want anyone to get burnt out by Burnt Out In Biscuit Land! The team included people who are familiar with my support requirements so that there was cover for my PAs when needed.
4) Care and Commodes – I require 24hr support, so a support worker toured with me, meeting my care requirements while we were away. In several places I also used local care agencies to help provide some of my personal care. We also travelled with a portable commode, a wireless doorbell, and a folding mat. These items helped replicate a set up similar to the one I have at home. When we’ve stayed somewhere longer than a week we’ve also hired a profiling bed – this happened when we toured to Germany last year and New York in early 2020.
5) Embedding Training and Consultancy – We worked closely with the CTN partners throughout the process of making and touring the show. We did group sessions on inclusive practice as well as having individual consultation sessions with each partner. This meant that we’d got to know each partner and had had time to build trusting relationships in advance. Arriving in each place felt like visiting friends rather than just turning up at a venue. It also meant we were able to spot and resolve issues in good time. Some partners made changes that will have an impact beyond the tour. For example, two venues radically improved their accessible toilet provision. All the partners made visual stories for the venue they were working with, and all now have the resources to create pop-up chill-out spaces.
6) Centring Access and Disability Culture – We put disability culture and accessibility at the heart of the tour and it is for disabled audiences first. Supported by Unlimited we commissioned a local disabled artist to make a new piece of work in response to the themes of the show and this was shared before the main performance. We made a series of access documents that described access provisions across the tour. These include a visual story, a sonic story, a COVID safety document and an overview on Relaxed Performance. We also made a booking guide to help venues understand the show and respond to questions confidently. Every show was also live-streamed so that anyone who wasn’t able to attend in person could still access it. It’s incredibly important to me that other disabled people can access the work I make. When access fails I feel this deeply so taking a strategic approach from the outset helped relieve some of this pressure.
7) COVID Safety – I’m Clinically Extremely Vulnerable to COVID and am still being very careful about where I go and how many people I see day to day. Touring in a way that felt safe from this perspective was something we thought about carefully. We had a consistent team, I masked in public spaces, and we travelled in the Touretteshero van rather than by train. The live-stream was also important not just so other CEV people could access the work but also so that if someone was unwell on the day they could be directed to the livestream rather than attending in person.
There have been moments over the last few years when I wasn’t sure if being a performer was still possible for me. Happily, this tour has helped show me that making and sharing art in ways that work for my body is possible and also enjoyable. It’s nice to be back home, but I very much hope we get opportunities to tour again soon.