House Lights Up: Researching Relaxed Performances for Neurodivergent Audiences in Scotland
In Scotland, there is currently no uniform definition of “Relaxed performance”. The term can range in it’s meaning to apply to performances that:
- allow noise and movement from the audience
- have reduced sensory stimulus, like lighting and sound (but not necessarily to a level that removes the barrier for people with sensory processing conditions)
- are for neurodivergent people
- are for adults and babies
- are for people with dementia
- provide additional resources such as ear defenders and sunglasses
- provide a quiet space
- are staffed by front of house who have been given autism awareness training.
This range of ways the term Relaxed performance is used means that audiences can never be certain if a Relaxed performance will actually be accessible to them. It means that despite the efforts of some theatre makers and venues to be inclusive, audiences are still experiencing barriers, and as such are not engaging in Relaxed performances to the fullest extent possible.
To better understand what and how the sector could do to further remove these barriers and improve the experience for audiences of Relaxed performances Access Scottish Theatre and Birds of Paradise, supported by Federation of Scottish Theatre, is undertaking a research project – House Lights Up.
About House Lights Up
House Lights Up is a research project that will consider what the performing arts industry in Scotland can do to make Relaxed performances more accessible for audiences to attend. It will do this by considering the reasearch from two perspectives: Audiences & Industry
AUDIENCE: House Lights Up will establish a working group of neurodivergent individuals who have experience of non-Relaxed performances and/ or Relaxed performances. We may also seek representation from organisations who work closely with neurodivergent individuals. Areas we are interested in investigating further with this group are:
- What would you need to access and feel comfortable in a theatre setting?
- What works well at Relaxed performances you have attended?
- What elements of Relaxed performances have actually created more barriers for you?
INDUSTRY: House Lights Up will establish a working group made up of industry professionals who have experience of making or programming Relaxed performances. Areas we are interested in investigating further with this group are:
- What does the industry already do well?
- What could the industry do better?
- What are the barriers to you making / programming more Relaxed performances?
- How could you build confidence / knowledge in making / programming more Rleaxed performances?
The above questions are preliminary thoughts and may well change and evolve before the working groups begin
For the scope of this research, we are focussing on Relaxed performances for audiences that identify as neurodivergent, with or without a diagnosis. By that we mean people with: autistic spectrum conditions; sensory processing conditions; tourettes; anxiety; ADHD or any other impairment or long term health condition due to which they have experienced barriers in attending non-Relaxed performances. These individuals may be able to attend non-Relaxed performances but a Relaxed performance would be more accessible to them.
We want to acknowledge that Relaxed performances is a term that has been applied to shows that have been made accessible to people with a variety of requirements, for example – people with dementia, or performances where babies and toddlers can be present. Although these are important aspects of the sector, we do not have the time or resources to include these aspects within the scope of this research.
We also want to acknowledge that there is a wider cultural conversation to be had around the way that the majority of Relaxed performances are made from taking existing performances for neurotypical audiences and reducing or removing elements, to make them more accessible to neurodivergent audiences. This is a very important conversation to have and we hope in the future to be able to address it properly and fully but again we do not have the time or resources to do so within the scope of this research. We believe that to attempt to do so would dilute our ability to achieve the aims and objectives of this research.
We will use this period to build on the great work of AST over the last ten years and to ensure that when venues are once again open to the public they are as accessible as possible and that the level of accessible performances does not fall away.
- More and better understanding within the sector about what relaxed performance are and what these could be
- An ongoing commitment for the theatres to provide accessible performance
- Relaxed and accessible performances in place and promoted through Access Scottish Theatre
- The development of an Access Scottish Theatre Charter (modelled on the PiPA Charter)
In addition to a lack of clarity around the term Relaxed (outlined above), current practices present the following challenges:
- Venues and companies are approaching Relaxed performances from the wrong angle; making some accessible provisions and labelling a performance as Relaxed is a good intention but the lack of consistency for audiences does little for audience development, meaning attendance of Relaxed performances by the intended audience is not as high as it could be.
- Neurodivergent people are often not consulted in the development of the Relaxed performances or additional facilities ie a quiet space
- For many venues / organisations, their only Relaxed performance is at Christmas, and this irregularity makes audience development difficult
- If resources are provided, their effectiveness is sometimes not considered, often due to lack of consultation. For example
- cheap ear defenders that don’t block out enough sounds and are sore to wear
- cheap electric handheld fans that don’t generate enough cooling air and make a loud buzzing – presenting an additional barrier
- Often when resources are provided, they are in bags branded with childish colours or characters – undermining the fact that neurodivergent adults would also require these resources
- If quiet spaces are provided, they are often inadequate; they are not actually quiet or they are used by people who do not actually require them
- The specifics of how a performance has been made Relaxed are often not communicated to audiences
Who Are The Researchers
After an open call out, BOP have recruited Aby Watson, Thom Scullion and Zoe Halliday as the Research Facillitators. Aby and Thom (who are job sharing) will focus on working with audiences who use Relaxed performances, while Zoe will focus on working with industry professionals.
MEET THE RESEARCHERS
Left to right: Aby Watson, Thom Scullion, Zoe Halliday
Aby Watson is an artist, dance maker, performer, researcher, and facilitator based in Glasgow. Aby is neurodivergent, with dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD, and she applies this vibrant neurodivergent energetic perspective across her whole practice. Her performance work has been seen across the UK and internationally at venues The Southbank Centre, Sophiensaele, Tramway and Wales Millennium Centre, amongst others. She is incredibly passionate about neurodivergent authorship and visibility in performance, and is the founder and chair of the Scottish Neurodiverse Performance Network.
Aby trained in Contemporary Performance Practice at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where she received honours of the first class. She is currently a postgraduate student at the RCS, doing a practice-led autoethnographic PhD, titled ‘Disordering Dance’, an artistic study into dance making from a lived experience of dyspraxia. As a freelance facilitator, Aby has worked with the National Theatre of Scotland, RCS, Glass Performance, Vox Liminus, House for an Art Lover, and Milton Arts Project amongst others.
Thom Scullion is an artist, facilitator and researcher based in Glasgow. Through his postgraduate research at the Glasgow School of Art, Thom’s research focused on participatory performance, roleplaying games and audience co-authorship. He has co-facilitated on three distinct research projects about drama and autism for Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and National Theatre Scotland. In 2019 he co-hosted Artists Talk Autism with artist Steven Fraser, a panel event as part of NTS’ Engine Room programme.
Zoe Halliday is a Scottish Performer and Facilitator based in Glasgow. In 2012 she embarked on the ‘Limitless project” in collaboration with Isobel Mair School, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), NHS and National Autistic society (NAS) which sparked her passion and dedication to establishing better working guidelines within a drama and Autism context. Zoe was the movement director for the National Theatre of Scotland’s (NTS) production of “The Reason I jump” and has just recently finished the international world tour of “War Horse”.
Zoe holds a BA Musical Theatre (2012) and MEd Learning and Teaching in Performing arts specialising in Drama and Autism (2018) from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Who Else Did The Research Involve
The research phase was plit into two distinct but related groups; Industry & Audiences.
To recruit industry professionals to interview for research into the report, requests were made to venues and companies that are part of the Access Scottish Theatre membership. Staff who contributed to the research were from various positions within the organisations, including Front of House Managers and Artistic Directors.
To recruit neurodivergent audiences, a nationwide call out was conducted.
As part of the call out, people who were interested in contributing were asked to consider the following two questions, to understand if they were suitable to contribute to the research.
- Are you Neurodivergent?
This could include – but is not limited to – Autism Spectrum Conditions, Learning Disabilities, Tourette’s Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia. You could be formally diagnosed, or you could be self-identifying.
- Or, do you support someone who is Neurodivergent?
This could be a family member, carer, or support worker.
- Have you ever been to see a live performance in Scotland?
This can include both a relaxed performance, or a non-relaxed traditional performance.
- Or, are you interested in going to see live a performance in Scotland but haven’t been able to do so?
This may be to do with difficulty in finding or attending a performance that is accessible to you.
If, after considering those two questions, people felt they were a suitable fit for the research, they were asked to complete a short registration form. A total of 32 people registred their interest, or which 24 people were selected to contribute to four different discussion groups.
How is the Research Funded?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of theatres, there has been no requirement for the next two editions of the printed Access Scottish Theatre guides.
In consultation with Federation of Scottish Theatre we have decided to use the budget saved from the lack of printing and courier costs associated with producing the AST guide.
At a time when very little accessible performance is being made, we believe that this research project is a suitable way to spend the AST budget, as it will have a positive impact for audiences and will improve the accessibility of the sector.
Access Scottish Theatre is produced by Birds of Paradise, on behalf of Federation of Scottish Theatre, funded by Creative Scotland