I arrive at the box office, and give them my name. The lady behind the desk says:
‘ah you’re participating in the horizontal cinema’.
I’m surprised, I’d expected to have to explain, a little awkwardly, that I will be lying down to see ‘Whitney’ on this fine July evening. And although I’m getting better at being lighthearted about this (I can now make a bit of a game of it, this need to explain different needs). It’s a relief when I don’t have to. In fact, not having to, makes me realise how tiring it is. Then she says:
‘I have CFS, and I am really keen to hear how is goes for you. I know lots of people who will be interested’.
Again I’m surprised by their friendly disclosure. It puts me at ease – I don’t feel so ‘other’. When I give my ticket over, I use the box office language:
‘I’m participating in the horizontal cinema today.’
‘yes! Great! We know. There’s someone on the door to help’.
There’s no frown, no pity, no sense of “poor you, you’re the one who needs to lie down”. They are simply warm and matter of fact. When I get to the screen, the duty managers show me to the yoga matt, cushion and blanket they have prepared for me, at my request, in front of a front row seat. As I make myself comfortable, the slide we’ve prepared to communicate to the audience this relaxation of etiquette pops up. And when the duty manager asks if I am ok, I can genuinely say yes, I feel utterly comfortable and I agree when she says;
‘It feels very natural. It’s not the big deal our team thought it might be. It’s just a horizontal cinema’.
This wasn’t a day-dream. It wasn’t a flight of fancy. It was my experience at the Watershed, Bristol on Tues 10th July 2018. And as I write this 2018 feels like high time to explode a dialogue about invisible impairment access, and talk about the many people absented from our cultural spaces by a dominant vertical culture that does not see the need many of us have to lie down, if we are to be out in the world.
Watershed are setting a precedence here: they are saying everyone should be able to see a film at their local cinema, they are saying they will put time and resources into making you as comfortable as possible, they are saying you belong here as much as anyone else, they are saying you are entitled to this space.
We are trying out a system to ensure an easeful journey from box office to bespoke horizontal resting space: you can request a yoga matt and cushion, or a bean bag or a mixture of the two. It’s not perfect – we know not everyone can access the floor – but it’s a good low tech start, and a way to open up the dialogue.
At the risk of stating the obvious this is political – who we support to access art and cultural space, entitlement, is inherently political and economic. In her book Feminist, Queer, Crip Alison Kafer imagines other possible futures in which disability is not hidden or avoided. She identifies possible sites (both physical and philosophical), where we might explore these different futures. I think all our shared cultural spaces are sites we need to revisit and question how we share and use them. And that when we re-imagine what is possible, what we are really reaching towards, is a better way of being together for everyone. Everyone.
And maybe we have more tools to push this re-imagining than we might think: this week I read about actress and activist Sam Renke highlighting clothes store Zara’s lack of access and suggesting disabled people use purchasing power to influence attitudes. She suggested the hashtag #DontWantOurCash for places where we are not welcome. In response Mike Scarlett writing in Unite Disability Rights Magazine suggested #YouveGotOurCash for places where we are welcome. So here is a massive shout out to Watershed #YouveGotOurCash You’ve definitely got our back and our cash.
If you are interested in trying out Watershed’s horizontal cinema experience please take a look at what’s on choose what you would like to see and give them a call on (0117) 927 5100 to book your space and ticket.
Find out more about Raquel’s work in building a network of Resting Spaces and venues open to people lying down to experience art & culture on her website.