The merits of accessible live streaming of theatre and congress at DaDaFest 2016

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Steph Niciu co-ordinated the live-streaming of the first day of Congress, The Kindness of Strangers and Fat Activism at DaDaFest International Festival 2016 last November/ December. Here she talks about the importance of live-streaming in making the arts accessible to disabled people and the logistics of what makes a good live-stream broadcast.

As part of DaDaFest 2016, a live streaming service was launched to enable disabled people to watch events that they couldn’t attend personally. This was the first time that DaDaFest live-streamed during its biennial festival’.

The idea to live stream was pitched to DaDaFest early in 2016. I met with Artistic Director Ruth Gould and told her that I had recognised a need for live streaming and wanted to bring DaDaFest’s events to a wider audience. Accessibility was key when pitching the idea. DaDaFest’s programme is one that challenges perceptions of disability and the work that the artists and performers produce creates a much needed and valued dialogue about disability-related issues, including access.

There is a lot of planning and preparation required when it comes to live streaming events. Initially, as with any new project, DaDaFest and I were excited and enthusiastic about what we could deliver. The events that were going to be live streamed were agreed on and discussed. We decided that the easiest way to do this would be by using YouTube (which is free) and streaming with a laptop, camera and other essential equipment that the organisation would source.

York-based professional theatre company Pilot Theatre had agreed to stream two events: the first day of Congress and Kindness of Strangers, while Liverpool John Moores University journalism and film students would stream Fat Activism and record other events. The help of the theatre company and students was vital because they came to the project with their own expertise and equipment which enabled the live streams to be successful.

Still of performer Tim Jeeves writing on a flipchart during his performance

Tim Jeeves demonstrates The Kindness of Strangers

In the lead up to the festival we considered venue space, floor plans and equipment. It’s very important to plan ahead as much as possible. But one thing that was quickly realised was how much more you need to consider when live streaming. Some things we learnt on the job, such as getting permission from the audience at the event. Both DaDaFest and I went through a massive learning curve. I think it would be the same for any organisation who wants to give live streaming a go. It’s a lot about trial and error. You need to take it as an opportunity to learn so that you can improve for the next event.

Of course the most essential aspect of live streaming is technology. We all know that technology is a wonderful thing but it comes with its problems. In order to make sure that your event is live streamed effectively, you need high quality equipment with a strong internet connection (Ethernet as opposed to Wi-Fi). And DaDaFest 2016 was not immune to technological difficulties, but again it’s all a part of learning!

Coming back to accessibility, Ginni Manning explained how the live stream of Fat Activism was helpful to her: “Fantastic. “It was great to have access to something I wasn’t well enough to get to in person; the number of times I miss plays at the last moment because I simply can’t make it to the theatre. So live streaming is an excellent addition to the performance.”

Photo of Charlotte Cooper and Liz Car sharing a joke

Charlotte Cooper and Liz Carr at the DaDaFest Fat Activism talk.

DaDaFest endeavours to make its events as accessible as possible, by including BSL interpreters and palantypists, subtitles and audio description.  And we made sure that these were included in the live streams. As well as this, we aimed to get high sound quality.

Despite your best efforts, it is important to remember that an event cannot be 100% accessible, so it is worth thinking about the key elements that you would like in your stream and try to integrate them in the best way that you can. But don’t get too stressed out when you are considering the needs of your audience.

Cristina Smith explained the impact the Congress stream had on her: “It was great to watch a stream which featured a BSL interpreter, as I could fully immerse myself in the event and enjoy it.”

Matt Spofforth explained his experience of The Kindness of Strangers: “I’d say livestreaming worked particularly well for this piece. The quality of the stream itself was smooth, but it also made me feel as if I were physically part of the audience. The stream gave me an intimate feel of the atmosphere in the theatre during the performance. However, while the resolution was good, mostly, it became pixelated at times, which had a negative impact on sound quality.”

Overall, live streaming is a great way to open up an event to a new audience, including those who wouldn’t normally attend the theatre. And you can reach an international audience too. As of 21st January 2017, these three live streams have been viewed by 332 people in total.

Whether you choose to stream with a professional company or do it yourself, there are a lot of advantages to live streaming. For the arts, streaming events is a significant way to get people talking about the issues that really matter. And for DaDaFest 2018 live streaming will get even bigger and better.

Click on this link to Google Support for advice on how to live stream with YouTube

Click on this link to the DaDaFest YouTube Channel, where you can view the livestreams from DaDaFest 2016