As part of the 2018 iteration of Brighton Fringe, the festival is running ‘Freedom Season’ a programme of events which are accessible to a range of people with various access needs, and which showcases the work of Deaf and disabled artists. Managing Director of Brighton Fringe, Julian Caddy, and Digital Marketing Co-ordinator, Hillary Rock-Archer spoke to DAO about the programme.
Brighton Fringe recognises that Disabled audiences are less likely to attend arts events than their non-disabled counterparts, and a big contributing factor to this remains practical considerations such as access requirements and economic and social barriers to engagement.
Freedom Season is a directive of Brighton Fringe aimed at addressing this pressing issue, as Managing Director, Julian Caddy explains:
“Brighton Fringe is an open-access arts festival, which means anyone and everyone can take part. But it does remain less accessible for disabled people, whether their impairments are visible or invisible. Therefore, we want to use the Freedom Season to highlight and to start a process of change, through raising awareness and giving additional support.”
Naturally, this sort of change doesn’t come overnight, especially as many of the problems are so deeply entrenched. Brighton Fringe see the Freedom Season as just the start of something they hope can have lasting impact:
“There needs to be a societal reappraisal of the role and importance of both disability arts but also the accessibility needs of members of the general public to engage with, get involved in and access what is rightfully theirs to access. At the moment this is happening without funding but our plan is for this to become an annual season at Brighton Fringe and will become more and more effective through access to a variety of funding channels.”
The Freedom Season has a focus on access, in terms of providing accessible performances and offering promotional materials in different formats. There will be a range of touch tours, captioned and signed performances, relaxed performances and a few audio-described shows as well. Brighton Fringe have also worked closely with partner venues to ensure a basic level of access, as Hillary Rock-Archer explains:
“We have partnered with venues to promote those that actively accommodate audiences’ access needs and programme events produced and performed by disabled participants. The venues include Komedia, Purple Playhouse, Sallis Benny Theatre, Friends Meeting House and The Old Market (hearing loop not currently working). All have disabled toilet facilities, level access for audience and performers and a hearing loop.
By offering targeted marketing support to venues who are programming and accommodating disabled artists and audiences, we are able to give an incentive to Brighton & Hove venues to become more accessible, at the same time highlighting those who are leading the way.”
But the programme is not just about accessibility for audiences, it’s also about giving commissioning and development opportunities for Deaf and disabled artists too. This has included providing registration fees, helping with venue hire and supporting other production costs.
Disabled-led shows at the festival this coming May include Stealth Aspies ‘Autistic People Speak Out’ in which a group of neuro-atypical people share their lived experience, Grace Eyre Street by Purple Playhouse – a collection of short performances made by learning-disabled theatremakers, The State of Us by Danceability Collective – a collaboration between Fan Dance Theatre Company, Theatre inc. and The Magic Chocolate Show, exploring a range of artforms including dance, theatre, comedy, music and film, all featuring learning-disabled performers.
Several shows also explore themes of disability and mental health including Fix My Brain by Two Surnames, Rum In The Gravy Boat by Fluid Motion Theatre Company and In Search of Myself by Distracting Cats Productions.
Rock-Archer, describes the deeper thinking behind programming work by disabled artists and performers:
“This project aims to reduce barriers to the arts and accessibility, and to give Deaf and disabled people an opportunity to engage with the arts, either by taking part in an event or by attending as an audience member. Many events produced by disabled people focus on social issues, spreading awareness and opening up a dialogue that will bring accessibility to the arts to the forefront of discussion.
Through providing this accessible season of work and collaborating with Deaf and disabled artists we plan to create networks and to build stronger engagement with the Fringe. We want to achieve this through collaboration and consultation with Deaf and disabled artists. For each show we commission we’ll provide bespoke access solutions for artists as well as the venues and audiences.
We want to increase the number of accessible shows within the festival, increase the number of Deaf and disabled participants making work both from Brighton as well as bringing artists from around the UK to produce work in Brighton. Our aim is to reduce barriers to attendance to the arts, attracting new, diverse and disabled audiences to attend these shows.”
The intention of the Freedom Season is clearly to reduce the most immediate barriers at Brighton Fringe, but Rock-Archer hopes it may have a broader impact:
“The Freedom Season will offer opportunities to produce new creative work as part of Brighton Fringe. Through partnership and collaborative working opportunities we plan to develop and strengthen communities of Deaf and disabled artists, producers and performers as well as creating new audiences for this work during Brighton Fringe.”
For more information about the Freedom Season, including a list of accessible performances, visit the Freedom Season microsite.