A Festive Scratch

A performer- his hood is up, his eyes are closed. One hand is on his heart, his other hand reaches upwards- hopeful.

In 2019, the BOP Young Artists were invited by Glasgow Connected Arts Network’s (GCAN) youth arts project The Bold Collective (TBC) to work with them on planning, delivering and performing in their annual Christmas event – ‘Festive Scratch Night’.

The Festive Scratch Night was an informal opportunity for young artists to perform new works or works in progress to a supportive live audience and gather feedback.

This partnership was also an opportunity for TBC to share their knowledge and experience in event planning, and for BOP Young Artists to share their knowledge and experience regarding making events more accessible.

📌 the planning:

The planning of the event began in October 2019, with members of both groups meeting up weekly to discuss things like how many performances there would be; what technical support would be needed; scheduling the evening; and the use of social media to promote the event.

Easy Read poster of A Festive Scratch. Accessible PDF of poster is available below

One of the key areas in the planning stage was how to ensure that the event would be accessible as possible. This meant booking access providers to make the performances accessible through Sign Language Interpreters (SLIs) and Live Theatre Captioning; looking into effective signage for increased accessibility; delegating roles within the group for on the evening of the event – i.e. a welcome committee, sighted guides etc.

It was important to the artists involved that the event be as accessible as possible to autistic people.

This led to conversations about the importance of having an open-door policy; keeping house lights throughout the event; giving advance warning regarding sensory / emotional content; and also ensuring that event information is clear and succinct.

For example, we created the plain text poster for the event [left], as an adaptation of the original poster designed for the event [below] which has a detailed illustration and handwritten information (designed by Mariam Chowdury of TBC).

You can see that the information in the plain text poster is more accessible than the original poster.

Original Festive Scratch Night poster

A screen-reader-friendly version of the Easy Read poster was also created, so that if images are not accessible to you, you can download it as a PDF below

BELOW: Members of The Bold Collective made their first visual guide. They filmed a tour of the buidling the event was happening in – Scottish Youth Theatre – to give audience members an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the space before coming to the event.

📌 the performances:

On the night of the event, we were all prepared and ready to deliver our scratch night with a difference – a scratch night with British Sign Language and Live Captioning integrated throughout the event.

The event was well attended, and all performers and audience members had a really enjoyable evening!

The event was hosted by TBC’s Allan Othieno, who introduced each of the eight short performances in turn. After each performance, time was given for the audience to write / draw / audio record anonymous feedback which was given to the performers at the end of the event.

The BOP Young Artists who presented a new piece of work were:

  • Robert McIntosh – ‘An Actor Prepares…’
  • Emily Ingram – An excerpt from ‘Write Like a Girl’ [in development]
  • Emily Beaney – An untitled piece of wearable sculpture
  • Andrew Robertson – An untitled solo dance piece

Young Artists Jonathan Carlton and Ink Asher Hemp had significant input and involvement in the planning and facilitation of the event itself.

  • A performer presents a wearable sculpture depicting brain neurons
  • A group of five young people sit on the floor- relaxing, eating food and chatting.
  • A performer- his hood is up, his eyes are closed. One hand is on his heart, his other hand reaches upwards- hopeful.

“Enjoyed all the performances. All of them very different and yet they all seemed to have similar themes of humanity and feeling very diverse, a good night [smiley face]”

Audience feedback (recorded anonymously via dictaphone)

“Really heartfelt and powerful and kept my interest, and he never lost piece, and I felt there was a real connection between him and the audience. A very engaging work”

Audience feedback (recorded anonymously via dictaphone)

📌 the access:

The Quiet Space

In order to make the event as inclusive and accessible as possible BOP worked with Max Alexander (from Play Radical) to design and facilitate a Quiet Space for the evening. A ‘Quiet Space’ is a space designed to make places and events more accessible to people who are autistic and/or have sensory needs which make it difficult to access public spaces. It’s somewhere someone can go if they need to escape, avoid getting overloaded or rest and recharge.

You can read the full Quiet Space evaluation by Max Alexander below (Word document)

  • A room, softly lit in pastel colours. Minimalist kinaesthetic decorations hang in the air.

In addition to having a quiet space which was separate to the performance space, we wanted to maximise our efforts to increase the accessibility of the performance itself (we had already decided to have flexible seating, an open-door policy, and house lights up throughout).

What is a Sensory Bag?

The purpose of a sensory bag is that it’s contents will enable a person (particularly those with sensory processing disorders, autism etc.) to regulate their reactions to sensory stimuli. This can help people to engage with activities / events which may otherwise create sensory over / under-stimulation.

The idea to create sensory bags came from one of BOPs Young Artists Jonathan Carlton. Sourcing the bags and contents was supported by Max Alexander (Play Radical) and Morna McGeoch (BOP).

The sensory bags created consist of a number of carefully selected objects which facilitate sensory-seeking and sensory-avoiding via a range of senses. Our key priorities were subtlety (allowing the user to regulate sensory stimuli inconspicuously while in a public space), and effectiveness (selecting contents which effectively facilitate sensory support- which includes being endorsed by autistic individuals, and being made of durable and ethically sourced, high quality materials).

“It was reassuring to know it was there, just in case. It [Having a quiet space] gives me confidence to attend events.”

One of the performers at the event

“Knowing there’s a safety net means you can do more. You walk differently on a wire between two buildings if you know there’s a net.”

Audience member

📌 the feedback:

“The Bold Collective really benefitted from working with BOP.  TBC are thinking how we can integrate roles such as Autism Awareness / Access Awareness within the regular workings of the committee. 

Learning about the importance of sensory space and sensory bags, and attention to detail in getting this right was an important learning experience for all involved.

TBC would like to ask BOP if we could hire / loan the sensory bags for future events.”

The Bold Collective, Lead Organisers on Festive Scratch Night 2019

In theatre right now across the board, there isn’t much there for people who attend the theatre and have sensory issues. There are ‘autism-friendly’ and ‘relaxed’ performances which do not go far enough, and that is an issue that we’re seeing, again, across the theatre spectrum.

[To increase access] We decided to create a quiet space for this event, and I feel that we got every aspect of it right. I feel the person we brought in was the right person to do it, and that this is the person going forward that can have a major impact on the theatre industry by creating these kinds of spaces.

And the interesting thing about it was that no-one who attended the theatrical event actually came into the quiet space at all, which is great- because it means that the theatrical event did what it was supposed to do, which was to be an autism-friendly event in itself. The quiet space concept is not to take away from the theatrical space, it is only to add in a bolstering effect where there is another option there if it is needed.

We also decided to have sensory bags available, which are now becoming frequent at events like the Edinburgh festival. The thing about the sensory bags is that they can be used anywhere, at any time. And I feel that the sensory bags we created for this event truly are world class in what they do. They have many different components to them, and the bags themselves were specifically chosen for how they looked, how they felt, and for their low environmental impact as well.

I don’t think the quiet space concept has been done before at a scratch night event like this. It sets a precedent and it sets a standard, so that going forward we can go from this level, and up the levels, and get this concept into as many theatre spaces, both in the subsidised theatre industry, and the commercial theatre industry.

This is a concept that has legs, it’s something that can be created in any venue, by any theatre company- no matter what budget they have. We feel that this is something that slowly, but surely, is going to turn into a theatrical autism friendly revolution.

Jonathan Carlton, BOP Young Artists.