Discussing Accessible Theatre With West End Wilma (Wilma Awards 2017)

I jumped at the chance to interview the theatre blogging legend that is West End Wilma; what with the upcoming Wilma Awards nominees just being announced and the inclusion of an accessibility award this year, there were a lot of topics about inclusive theatre that I was eager to discuss!

Hey Wilma, thanks for chatting with me today!

I absolutely love that The Wilma Awards have a category dedicated to accessibility this year. What encouraged you to take this step?

I think it’s a really important thing and so I’m trying to do anything I can do to raise awareness of the importance of the issue.

We know from disabled theatregoers that individual theatre venues and teams can massively vary in their accessibility. Are there any venues or staff teams that you personally know to be at the top of their game in terms of disabled access?

Places like The Arcola, Park Theatre and National Theatre all do a great job I think.

Many theatres today are wonderful at promoting relaxed performances and ensuring that their audiences are informed about specific aspects of the performance e.g. the use of strobe lighting beforehand. From your own work with audiences affected by autism, can you explain why this is so important?

As theatre-goers we like to moan about people who don’t behave properly at the theatre. Talking, not sitting still etc. And it can be annoying to have this happen, especially when tickets are so expensive. But what a lot of people don’t consider is that maybe they have an underlying issue that makes it difficult for them to stay still for long periods of time. I agree there is a way you should behave at the theatre but if we are going to stipulate these things then we should also ensure that there is at least one performance of every show that caters to people who may need a more relaxed environment. Because everyone should be able to experience the joy of theatre.

I really enjoyed your recent piece on the necessity of actors being able to perform eight shows a week. Applying this to aspiring disabled actors, do you think there’s currently enough support in place for performers with disabilities and long-term conditions to succeed in the competitive West End industry?

That’s a great question and I don’t think I know the answer. My point in that blog was that decades ago there was no such thing as an alternate performer and if you were cast in a role you were expected to do all eight shows a week. Now it is as though we have part time actors who only do some of the shows but they are still billed as the lead performer.  I’m not really sure what support is available for disabled actors though but it’s certainly something I’ll look in to.

My own personal mission is to promote accessible theatre, not just for those with disabilities, but also for those with debilitating chronic illnesses, who are not often included in the conversation. If you could change one thing about current theatre practice to make it more accessible for this population, what would you do?

I don’t think it matters what disability you have, everyone deserves the opportunity to be able to go to the theatre and feel in a safe environment where they aren’t judged for what they do. There are certainly more variations on accessible shows popping up (Dementia friendly, Mother and baby shows etc) and so we are certainly moving in the right direction towards catering to all types of conditions.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today! Where can we find out more about you, and this year’s Wilma Awards?

Check out westendwilma.com for all the news on the awards. The nominees have just be announced and voting opens online on 1 September! There are a few tickets available for the ceremony if anyone wants to come along. They can be bought at delfontmackintosh.co.uk.

This was my first ever time conducting an interview on my blog, so I hope you guys enjoyed it! Accessible theatre is so important to me and although strides are being made, there’s still a long-way to go in ensuring theatre is inclusive for all. Do you have any thoughts on the current situation and how things could be improved? I’d love to hear your views!

Photo Credits: West End Wilma

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