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Access All Areas

How do you make a site-specific show that is completely accessible? Assistant Director Louisa Sanfey explains…

Not many people would look at a semi-derelict building with uneven floors, narrow corridors and steep staircases, and think: let’s make a show here that is completely accessible to everyone, no matter whether they are a wheelchair user, visually impaired or have limited mobility – but that’s exactly what ANU Productions are doing with Angel Meadow.

ANU create immersive shows that are unique for every audience member, so the Artistic Director, Louise Lowe, is determined that nobody who comes to Angel Meadow should leave without fully experiencing this incredibly dynamic and detailed level of performance.  My brief as an Assistant Director is to look at the show at every stage of its development through the eyes of disabled audience members, in order to make sure that the performance is flexible enough to engage on a one-to-one basis with everyone who comes through the venue’s doors, whatever their individual ability to physically interact with the show.

This task is not without its challenges, not least the venue’s unique character; ANU plan to use the whole building including upper floors and a basement, and it is simply not possible to make all of these levels physically accessible to those with limited mobility. The big question is whether we can create a show on one level for those who cannot move up or down the stairs that is equally thrilling, active and packed with narrative as the show seen by those who can explore all of the levels. The answer, we all firmly believe – is that yes we can!

Angel Meadow rehearsals. Photo credit: Ciaran Bagnall

As performers Una Kavanagh and Dee Burke explain, the nature of ANU’s work is that the actors watch the audience throughout the show to judge their responses and most fully engage with them. The narratives and character journeys are flexible and fluid, able to shift around the needs and responses of the audience members. For an individual who cannot go upstairs, the actors will be able to bring elements of that world down to them; and there will be some scenes and moments designed specifically with disabled audience members in mind.

My specialty area is audio description for blind and visually impaired customers, and I am particularly excited about the plans for AD and BSL interpreted performances. There will be two dates when these services are available, and due to the highly personalised and unique nature of the show, the audio describer and BSL interpreter will guide audience members around the performance on a one-to-one basis, allowing the audience member to steer the journey. We also plan to look at different ways in which the actors can interact with these audiences, to translate their usual performance modes into forms that speak directly to hearing and sight impaired individuals. And there will be a touch tour one hour before each access performance, where visually impaired people can explore the set, props and costumes in detail before their journey begins.

While similar access techniques have been used in immersive performances across the UK before now, we hope to break new ground with Angel Meadow regarding the level of integration and flexibility within the show. It’s an exciting way to approach performance, and we hope that disabled audiences will join us for the adventure!

Angel Meadow runs from Tue 10 – Sun 29 June in Ancoats, Manchester at a secret location. Tickets are available online here or from Cornerhouse Box Office in person or over the phone on 0161 200 1500.