Brighton Fringe Festival’s agenda for access and inclusion

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Brighton Fringe is one of England’s largest arts festival, setting out to stimulate, educate and entertain through a diverse range of art forms. Sarah Perryman, Head of Participant Services spoke to DAO about the festivals’ ambition to become more inclusive of disabled performers and audiences.

Photo of disabled comedian Georgie Morell on stage against a pink light

Georgie Morell brings ‘A Poke in the Eye’ to the Brighton Fringe Festival ‘

Brighton Fringe is open-access, which means anyone can put on a Brighton Fringe event. The organisation works closely with venues and companies to ensure accessibility issues are considered in an effective way and publish a list of accessible events from the Fringe programme each year.

We are striving to increase the number of accessible shows with the 2017 programme including more than 30 shows that are either audio described, captioned, signed, offer a touch tour or a provide a combination of these elements.

While we don’t curate our programme we provide a range of services to support people to take part, which we tailor to individual need. We also work to develop artists through workshops, mentoring and bursary programmes. By 2019 our aim is to have a raft of bursaries to promote participation, especially to support older people, disabled people and disadvantaged communities or groups.

We also work with mainstream and specialist media to promote opportunities for disabled performers and to raise awareness of accessible shows. For instance, in 2016 we worked with the Lonely Planet to provide a guide to accessible Brighton during May.

Promotional photograph for Silent Faces' show Follow Suit featuring the performers in oversized suits throwing paper aeroplanes.

Silent Faces ‘Follow Suit’. Image © Katerina Kotti.

In 2016 we offered an iF (integrated Fringe) bursary for disabled artists and integrated arts companies. It was won by London theatre company Silent Faces for Follow Suit, a dark physical comedy set in an office.

The bursary gave them a free registration, free use of the Sallis Benney Theatre and a raft of mentoring. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to offer this bursary in 2017 due to the iF funding coming to an end, but we are looking for funding to run something similar, or hopefully bigger, in 2018 and beyond.

We also run a series of free workshops for participants called Fringe Academy – approximately 40 each year – and we talk about access at many of them. We make sure participants are aware of our resources on access, which are available through our website (here). One thing we find useful is House’s guide on access, which we often signpost to participants and venue managers and encourage companies to offer BSL interpreted, captioned, relaxed and audio described performances wherever possible.

We work with all artists to help them make the most of their Brighton Fringe experience. For disabled artists, this really means getting to understand what additional needs they have, and being as flexible as possible to help.

A grainy black and white image of a dark figure, perhaps a ghost

Extant bring Chris Campion’s ‘Catching the Ghost’ to the Brighton Fringe Festival

This might be discussing the pros and cons of various venues if their disability is physical, and liaising with the venue managers if needed to discuss longer than usual get-in, rehearsal and get-out times. It might be meeting with the artist or company in person to help them register their event through our online registration system if their disability affects their vision or ability to complete online forms. We also signpost any bursaries or funding that might be available to them, to help cover the costs of taking part in Brighton Fringe.

Basically, as long as artists discuss their needs with us, we’ll do whatever we can to help. Every artist or company we work with is unique, so we’re always keen to tailor our assistance in the best way possible.

We ask each event to provide detailed information on their accessibility then display this on our website. This enables people to search for shows which offer audio description, relaxed performances, captioned performances, touch tours and signed performances. A total of 155 venues are hosting Brighton Fringe events in 2017 with people’s living rooms, beach huts, cafes, parks and pubs all being transformed into performance spaces.

In a perfect world we would love every venue to have wheelchair access and a disabled toilet but, given the diverse range of venues we are working with, we realise this isn’t always realistic. We ask events to let us know this information when they register and if they have these facilities we will make this clear on the show’s listing.

Lastly, in terms of highlights for this year we’ve several disability shows including Hijinx’s Meet Fred, Extant’s Catching The Ghost, Georgie Morell’s A Poke in the Eye and a professional group of disabled actors from Greece THE A.M.A. with The Night of the Hunt