Author: Michaela O’Sullivan
Role: Development & Evaluation Manager, Square Chapel & The Old Courts
Title: Changing The Scene with Mind the Gap
“Venues can’t be everything to everyone all of the time, but they can be something to someone, all of the time…it’s important to keep recognising where improvements can be made around access and inclusion.” (Julie Skelton, Executive Director, Mind the Gap)
“If your life is not being reflected in stories, in theatre and on TV and radio, you feel alone and that is isolating. Theatre is there for everyone, a way to escape, a way to belong, a way to be intrigued.” (Paul Wilshaw, Assistant Producer, Mind the Gap)
Image credit: Event hosts Paul Wilshaw and Anna Gray. Image credit: Mind the Gap
Square Chapel is one of six venues working with Bradford-based Mind the Gap on an exciting project called Engage. Stretching across England, Engage includes The Albany in Deptford, Gulbenkian in Canterbury, Leeds Playhouse, Northern Stage in Newcastle and Z-arts in Manchester. It is also working with Confidance, a Canterbury-based inclusive dance company; Artistic Director, Jo Frater is the South-East Creative Coordinator for the project. Engage delivers outcomes to improve access, participation and representation in the arts, for and with, people with learning disabilities as audiences, participants and artists.
Over two glorious days on 29th and 30th September, teams from the venues convened at Northern Stage to celebrate achievements and share learning and best practice. For many of us, still working from home or recently returned from Furlough, it felt joyous and liberating to be meeting up again in person and talking about art, access and creativity. It was also wonderful to reconnect with so many actors from Mind the Gap who have graced the stage at Square Chapel on many occasions. In November 2019 they performed A Little Space, made in collaboration with Gecko – a memorable, innovative and visually stunning piece of theatre. Between Lockdowns, they managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat by returning to Square Chapel and making a filmed version of the production – we were treated to a screening and it’s brilliant. Follow Mind the Gap for more information about future screenings, or watch the trailer here
Image credit: Publicity shot from A Little Space. Photo ©Tom Woollard
Over the two days, the venue partners delivered presentations about their experiences of the project, sharing learning, challenges and highlights. Some, including Northern Stage, had created Access Groups so that accessibility became embedded across their organisation. Confidance had developed an “Artist Rider” to improve communications between artists and venues. Gulbenkian had made short films to prepare visitors, artists and audiences for their visit. The Albany, in the process of becoming a Relaxed Venue, posed the question: “What does “relaxed” really mean and is that the best word to use?” Z- arts had explored making recruitment and staff inductions more accessible, making written documents more visual and integrating them with video. Leeds Playhouse shared lots of great information, including, implementing more informal workshop-style casting sessions, having Creative Enablers available to support artists and integrated captioning.
Prior to going into administration in 2020, Square Chapel had delivered a lot of successful outcomes for this project, focussed on developing pathways into the arts for people with learning disabilities. This included having paid and volunteer roles, work experience placements, “take-over days” for Mind the Gap artists to shadow the staff team, artist residencies to develop new work, co-productions with local schools and some great live performances. As a new CIC, under new ownership, we value the strong relationship we have with Mind the Gap to help us to develop this work in the new organisation.
Now nearing the end of this fantastic project, we hope this is just the start of the conversation and that as a network, we can keep sharing and learning.