House Lights Up: Researching Relaxed Performances for Neurodivergent Audiences in Scotland
In the twelve years since Access Scottish Theatre was conceived, we have worked to promote a range of events that were made accessible through audio description, BSL interpretation and captioning; providing advice and support to the AST membership about how to pesent these events (and information about them) in as accessible a way as possible. During the early days of AST, relaxed performances were thin on the ground and were listed on a single page at the end of the printed guide, rather than in the main body of the programme alongside the other listings. But gradually the popularity of relaxed performances grew, and when the AST printed guide and website was redesigned in 2017, relaxed performances began to be listed and promoted in the same way as the other access types.
Although the number of relaxed performances have increased, they remain – by quite a large margin – the access type with the fewest events featured in the AST listings. We at AST had a few theories for why this might be but these were based on suppositions and anecdotal conversations. During this time, we had also been having conversations with neurodivergent audiences about the lack of clarity about how individual relaxed performances would remove select or limited barriers but that they still experienced barriers, resulting in them having a negative overall experience. So when the 2020 lockdown closed down all live events – stopping the need for us to produce our biannual guide – and we began to consider alternative ways to use our time and resources, it felt like a perfect opportunity to conduct some research into relaxed performances.
House Lights Up is born
As our plan to research relaxed performances took shape, our first port of call was to recruit a researcher to lead on the work. We conducted an open call, and were struck by two very strong applications, both from neurodivergent people with arts industry and academic experience. However one application had more experience of working with neurodivergent people, while the other had more experience working with venues to support relaxed performances. After consideration, we felt that having expertise in these two differing perspectives – both so important to the relaxed performance experience – would be really beneficial to our research, so we invited both applications to work on the project. These researchers were Zoë Halliday – with a focus on venues and producers, and Aby Watson and Thom Scullion (job share) – with a focus on audiences.
Over the following year, Aby, Thom and Zoe researched the wider national and international context of relaxed performances, conducted interviews with people in their respective areas of focus, and, working with Birds of Paradise, established a set of actions that venues and producers could follow in order to make their relaxed performances more accessible to neurodivergent audiences. The House Lights Up report is now complete and will be launched at a public event later in spring 2023, where there will be a presentation from the researchers and an opportunity to ask questions.
You can find out more information about House Lights Up on the Birds of Paradise website here.
Blog entry by Callum Madge