Accessibility for Cambridge theatre

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Relaxed Theatre Company had no choice but to cancel their show, Any Little Thing, which was due to run 24th - 28th October 2017 at Corpus Playroom, due to a lack of wheelchair accessibility.

To give you some background on who we are, we are a small Autistic-led student theatre company working to make the complex and often actively exclusive theatre community in Cambridge a little more inclusive. We produce shows that, with a few technical modifications, are able to be enjoyed by individuals who are normally excluded from "standard theatre", such as people with ASD, Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, and many more neurological and physical disabilities. We use and promote an audition and rehearsal process specifically tailored to ensure disabled and mentally ill cast and crew members can participate, and work constantly to ensure everyone in our team is made to feel as at home as possible. As I’m sure you can imagine, this means our projects and endeavours are close to the hearts of a large number of people.

Upon being offered the opportunity to perform a show at the Corpus Playroom, a fringe venue managed by the ADC theatre in Cambridge, we decided that although several factors of the venue were less than ideal (including the wheelchair inaccessibility), we would work to rectify these issues ourselves. However, due to a series of miscommunications, we found out on the Wednesday before our show that the ramp we were beginning to build would not actually be allowed to be used, and wheelchair users would be unable to see our show. This was even more devastating to us as a member of our cast uses a wheelchair, meaning we were literally unable to have our full cast do the show. Not only was this cast member (and the various wheelchair-using audience members who were excited to watch our show) disappointed at not being able to experience Any Little Thing, they were also incredibly hurt that the local council, together with the ADC and Corpus Christi college, have once again prioritised nonsensical red tape and the aesthetic semi-historical value of buildings over actual human inclusion. It is both dehumanising and incredibly demoralising. 

Although ADC Management worked hard to rectify this issue, suggesting several alternative venues (either the Larkum studio or a mainstage matinee), none would work with the ethos of Relaxed Theatre Company. Our first show, Sögur, was an ADC matinee. As grateful as we were for the experience, we came to understand that we don’t want to be doing shows at non-standard times. This only adds to the stigma that Relaxed theatre is a substandard and niche alternative art form, rather than an entirely viable and logically more appropriate form of theatre. We don’t want our shows to have novelty value, and we feel this is the implication behind seeing a show at midday instead of the usual times. Similarly, using the Larkum would leave no space available to be a Relaxed area to which audience members could go mid-show, a feature which is vital to the genre.

Corpus Playroom needs to be rectified as quickly as possible. It is entirely unacceptable that 50% of scheduled ADC programming cannot be participated in (whether as an actor, crew member or audience member) by anyone in a wheelchair. As a university club, and a society funded by public money, this is cruel and hugely inappropriate. Along with wheelchair inaccessibility, the venue has no hearing loop, the seats are pews (preventing audience members leaving the auditorium quickly should they need to), and the dressing rooms are underground, accessed through a steep spiral staircase. The dressing rooms and their access are inappropriate for anyone with PTSD, anxiety, claustrophobia or mobility issues. Until such time as the Playroom can be made genuinely accessible, the ADC should strongly consider using alternative Cambridge venues for their shows. We are currently working to compile a list of venues in Cambridge that are accessible, in the hope we will be able to perform our show somewhere else, as will other producers in Cambridge. 

If you make shows in Cambridge, you have one of the biggest opportunities to help us turn this around. Don't apply for Corpus Playroom slots. There are other, accessible venues all over Cambridge. Refuse to be complicit with the council, college and ADC Upper Management in explicit ableism. 

If you see shows in Cambridge, stop giving your money to Corpus Playroom. Michaelmas's shows are scheduled and many are hugely important, and we would never divert attention from them. However, from Lent onwards, with the new termcard, don't pay to watch shows that support the exclusion of wheelchair users.

If you are part of neither of these groups, sign and share our petition, keep involved with our fight, and pressure the council, Corpus Christi college, and ADC Management to bring forward the plans to make Corpus Playroom accessible, and the rest of Cambridge theatre with it. Until then, we refuse to support Lent's termcard at Corpus Playroom and anything after it.

Relaxed Theatre Company



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