This year the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival hosted an info session about accessibility in comedy, hosted by Ophira Calof, at Crow’s Theatre as part of the Learning and Fun Professional Development program.
The group in attendance, including comedians, producers and venue owners, brainstormed what a typical experience of producing and attending a comedy show is like in Toronto. Everything from how the show is promoted to physical features of the venue to performer and audience expectations were shared. They talked about how to make adjustments to the show in order to increase access, along with tips on how to host a relaxed performance.
Ophira Calof, and our Coordinator of Learning and Fun Erin Conway, have gathered all of the notes and ideas from the info session and we are happy to share this with the world!
SOCIAL MODEL OF DISABILITY
Approximately 1 in 5 Canadians have a disability. Developed by the Disability community, this model says that people are disabled by societal barriers, not by any personal impairment or difference. Barriers can include many things, like buildings not having a ramp, no captioning in videos, and certain attitudes/expectations about disabled people.
By understanding the social model of disability, we can immediately start addressing accessibility in our community by:
- Recognizing what we currently offer and communicating it clearly
- Providing variations/changing what we currently offer to remove barriers and increase access, making our shows available to more people
ACCESS INFORMATION INCLUDES:
- Image description
- Accessible PDFs
- Captioning for videos
- Clear contact person for accessibility concerns
Getting to the venue:
- Transit options and their accessibility:
- Drop off areas
- Entry to the space
Entering the space:
- Are there stairs? How many, how steep?
Is there a person on site who can assist people up and down the stairs?
- Is there a railing or landing?
- Is there a ramp? Is it permanent or temporary?
- What are the measurements of the door / entryway and is there an automatic button?
Inside the venue:
- Are there any additional steps once you get inside?
- How do you get your ticket? Will there be lines?
- Will personal support workers get in for free?
- Is there seating available pre-show?
- Are the seats full back / bar stools / couches?
- What are the measurements of the chairs? Do they have armrests?
- What are the sightlines like to the stage?
- Will priority seating be offered, and if so, at what point?
- Is there an accessible washroom?
- What are the dimensions? Does it have grab bars?
- How high is the toilet seat?
Content of the show:
- Will there be ASL interpretation? Live captioning? Audio description? A touch tour?
- Will it be a relaxed performance?
- Is there a speaker system / announcements / loud music?
- Are there lighting blackouts? Strobe lighting? Jarring effects?
- Are people permitted to come and go during the performance?
- Will there be audience participation? Can people opt out?
ELEMENTS OF A RELAXED PERFORMANCES:
- Community outreach and consultation
- Create and distribute a VISUAL STORY in advance (an example used at TOsketchfest19)
- Quiet space in venue for patron use
- Pre-show introduction (often one of the actors from the show) explaining to the audience what to expect during the show (show lighting / stage / house lighting, demo volume of sound as well as content and structure of the performance). Also explain the audience is welcome to move around the space and make noise.
- Keep house lights up to a level where the audience can easily come and go
- No sudden noises / light changes in the show tech
- Make sure actors are prepared for the relaxed nature of the show
IDEAS ON APPLYING RELAXED PERFORMANCE TO SKETCH:
Instead of blackouts, try fade or other lighting, use keyboard instead of needle drops
Other Options/Examples for Edits:
- Moving props in and out
- Thematic transitions
- Rethink blowlines
- Actors resetting to the same space on stage to reset for a new scene
- Establishing patterns to end scenes
- Start clap or bow from the stage
EXTRA LITTLE TIPS AND TRICKS:
- Here is an accessibility info sheet that TOsketchfest created which shares descriptions of each TOsketchfest Venue in 2019
- Here is an example of a VISUAL STORY from TOsketchfest19
- Hire accessibility and community consultants from the Dis/Mad/Deaf community wherever possible
- Think about accessibility from the beginning of your project, as it will inform the way you create and produce in new and exciting ways
- There is an extra accessibility fund with most Arts Grants, if your project team includes someone with a disability requiring accommodation
It is important to note that the above information is not meant to be a final check list, but is a peer-driven starter kit for your own research and work. TOsketchfest intends to host more of these info sessions in the future so that this resource is ever growing and changing.
Visit AccessTO to help find accessible performance spaces in Toronto.
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