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Accessible Arts at Curve Theatre

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Covid taught us the importance of inclusivity online. Using the internet may be second nature to many of us but Covid left millions in the dark. With a majority using the internet to search and book tickets, the theatre industry needed to adapt a new system to support those with additional needs online.

Curve Theatre put inclusivity at the forefront of its processes with the adoption of Recite Me assistive technology online. We caught up with Nicola Allen, Audiences and Access Officer at Curve Theatre to discuss the importance of accessibility in the arts industry.

Could you tell me a bit about Curve Theatre and your job role?

Curve is one of the UK’s leading producing theatres. Under the leadership of our Chief Executive, Chris Stafford, and Artistic Director, Nikolai Foster, we have developed an international reputation for producing, programming, and touring a bold and diverse programme of musicals, plays, new work, dance, and opera.

Our recent Made at Curve productions and co-productions include the critically acclaimed, new UK production of Billy Elliot the Musical, Maggie May (with Leeds Playhouse and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch), Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (with Theatre Royal Bath and Mayflower Theatre Southampton), and the “world-class – Daily Telegraph” A Chorus Line. We also present a dynamic mix of community engagement, artist development, and learning programmes, which firmly places audiences, artists, and communities at the heart of everything we do.

My role at Curve is Audiences and Access Officer. Day-to-day, I lead the delivery and marketing of the theatre’s access provision, including our growing programme of Audio Described, British Sign Language Interpreted, Captioned, Relaxed, and Dementia Friendly performances. I also work with teams across the organisation and a team of Community Ambassadors to identify prospective new audiences and consider ways of retaining and developing our existing audiences.

Why is accessibility important to Curve Theatre?

We believe everyone who lives, works, or learns in our city should have access to great art and culture, and that Curve is a place where everyone can engage with the arts. Through our work to break down both actual and perceived barriers, we strive to create a fantastic experience that is grounded in equality for all our audience members, from the moment they book a ticket to taking their seat for a performance.

How did Recite Me align with your diversity and inclusion strategy?

​Recite Me has been integral to creating a more accessible online experience for our customers, enabling them to engage with our website in a way that suits their individual needs. From January – June 2022, we had an average of over 680 unique toolbar users per month using the screen reader, translation facility, reading aids, and styling tools. Previously those customers may have had to contact our Box Office for support with their query or transaction, or abandoned their purchase altogether, simply due to not being able to access our website in a suitable way. Recite Me has and continues to be a key tool in realising our ambition to make Curve welcoming for all.

What do you hope for the future of accessibility within the theatre industry?

​We hope our industry continues its strides to becoming fully accessible for everyone, from its bricks and mortar to digital output, programming to creative learning provisions. We’d love for designated access performances and opportunities to become a thing of the past and get to a place where everyone can access any performance, event, class, or workshop with confidence at any time.

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