Watching a performance at the theatre is often a thrilling and exciting night out. For the disabled population, however, a night at the theatre can take a lot of prior planning and stress.
But not at Leeds Playhouse. The theatre, formerly known as West Yorkshire Playhouse, is one of the largest theatres in the country outside of London. For a long time now, Leeds Playhouse has been at the forefront of providing an inclusive, enjoyable theatre experience for everyone.
We recently spoke to Nick Hallam, Marketing & Communications Director at Leeds Playhouse, who told us, “Access within the theatre has always been at the heart of what we do. It’s not an add-on or a tick box for us, it’s integral.”
About 12% of Leeds Playhouse’s audience identifies as having some form of disability. That’s about average considering 10% of the population identify as disabled. Yet, the theatre’s approach to accessibility is far beyond average. Their efforts go far beyond the typical ramps and audio description that disabled patrons may be used to. In fact, Leeds Playhouse has already created and pioneered dementia-friendly performances, a category you may not immediately consider when thinking of disabilities, but one that is just as significant.
In addition, Leeds Playhouse is also part of a consortium of other theaters around the country called Ramps On The Moon (https://www.rampsonthemoon.co.uk), a programme that aims to achieve greater representation in the employment and performance opportunities for disabled individuals.
Currently, Leeds Playhouse is undergoing a £15 million redevelopment, which Nick tells us the driving force of which has been looking at how physical access to the theatre can be vastly improved. The new building will include two new disability-friendly entrances as well as larger lifts to accommodate all visitors, no ramps needed.
Recite Me has also been a crucial part of this development process. Nick adds, “Recite Me arrived at a very opportune moment as part of the rebrand. It was a no-brainer to add Recite Me to it.” Nick credits the extensive features and the affordable cost as two factors that attracted their team to the software.
The theatre added Recite Me’s software to their website earlier this summer. Although still early days, Nick says the software will soon become a “must-have” for every theatre. He adds, “For us, it was one of the easiest decisions that we’ve had to make in terms of accessibility. We’re keeping it on there for a year and seeing how it goes. But if [the solution] is not Recite Me, I don’t know what it would be, because it’s such a useful and easy to use tool.”
It’s clear to see that things seem to be moving in the right direction when it comes to theatre accessibility. Technology advancements, along with Leeds Playhouse’s accessibility efforts, mean that there are some exciting things in the pipeline.
Nick tells us, “We’re working with The National Theatre who are going to be testing captioning glasses. Currently, we have specific captioned performances or British Sign Language performances for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.”
These captioning glasses would mean that every performance could be captioned for deaf or hard of hearing visitors, rather than a few specific ones.
“That would be revolutionary going from a one-off run of shows where two or three are captioned or signed, to suddenly every performance having a caption facility. So you’ve got the same choices as every single other person who is coming to the theatre, rather than just specific accessible performances.”
Having the same choices available as everyone else is ultimately what accessibility comes down to. It’s what we strive to provide through Recite Me daily, and with organizations like Leeds Playhouse taking such an active role in addressing accessibility, we can be assured that inclusive options will soon become the norm.
To find out more about Leeds Playhouse, including upcoming performances and ticket sales, visit www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk
To find out more about Recite Me, including how to book your free demo, visit www.reciteme.com