Spectacle Makers Charity visit to Extant Showcase

Extant is the UK’s leading professional performing arts company of vision impaired artists and theatre practitioners, producing touring productions and delivering training regionally and internationally. Their Enhance programme works with medium-scale touring companies to increase the availability of accessible theatre. Its collaborative approach with venues increases opportunities for vision impaired audiences to engage with the arts through a broader range, frequency and geographical spread of accessible work that will reduce inequalities, barriers to participation and social isolation.

In 2022 the Spectacle Makers Charity gave Extant £5,000 toward their Pathways course. The aim of Pathways is to influence, embed and improve greater awareness of, and accessibility for, blind and partially impaired practitioners across the theatre industry.

Recently, Spectacle Makers Charity Trustee, Judith Morris had the opportunity to attend a Pathways Crew and Design Showcase. It is a culmination of work from visually impaired backstage theatre-makers. They have been training and developing their craft for nine months and the skills explored include Sound Design, Lighting Design, Set Costume-Prop Design and Production.

The event showcased two performances, written and directed by those from the previous part of the programme, which the Crew and Design team members had help to produce. Each team member introduced themselves with person descriptions, explaining how they individually worked on the piece itemising the technical approaches to the story and making it come alive with props and audio descriptors for the actors thoughts.

There followed a Panel Discussion from three individuals associated with theatre lighting and sound, one of whom had become visually impaired later in life. All indicated that the theatre need not be an unsafe place for the visually impaired to work if the individual can explain what they would need to help their productivity. However, the late onset person did move to teaching after feeling that he could not identify some unsafe lighting backstage. The outcome was that the actual production design ideas are definitely not an issue as appliance software can be used to initiate thoughts and help with the final presentation.

Going forward two members agreed they would be interested in a course that enhances their writing, directing and small-scale theatre-making skills (including production). Crew and Design proved a useful stepping stone for all of the members: with them now having a clearer idea of which roles they will build upon, and which organisations/collaborators they will seek out. It was agreed that access support needs to be at the core of every project; and always being mindful, of each individual’s unique access requirements.