Top tips for making an inclusive, accessible Edinburgh Festival Fringe show and how to communicate your access needs as a performer
Making theatre accessible and inclusive is vital, but it isn’t always easy – especially when it comes to putting on a show in a historic city like Edinburgh when old, often inaccessible buildings become spaces for actors to perform in during the Fringe.
Therefore, it’s important to note that, if you’re taking a show to the Fringe, you should think about accessibility (both for the audience and performers) as early in the process as possible. A little bit of planning ahead can help ensure everyone is able to come along and enjoy the work you’re putting on. After all, we’d all like to play to a packed audience!
We spoke to Matt Lord and Alan Gordon from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, and Jonny Patton of the Pleasance Theatre Trust about their top tips for how to make your Edinburgh Fringe show as accessible as possible.
What can performers do to make their show accessible?
First of all, it will not always be possible for a show to be accessible to absolutely everyone. Despite the Edinburgh Fringe Society having a community engagement, accessibility and learning team who work to improve accessibility for performers and audiences at the festival, some elements – such as the way old buildings have been constructed – are beyond anyone’s control. However, here are some things you can think about that are within your control, and can help make your show more accessible:
Check what access the venue has
Jonny Patton says, “It’s worth noting that only a few of our spaces are purpose-built theatres. The majority of them are in gymnasiums, basketball courts, student rooms, dance studios, shipping containers.”
All the Pleasance Theatre Trust’s venues are wheelchair accessible for audiences, but this won’t be the case everywhere. Fortunately, you can find an access guide on the Pleasance Theatre Trust’s website that will take you through their venues and what they have in place to make each one accessible.
The Edinburgh Fringe Society also has a guide to choosing a venue, filled with useful information such as whether there’s wheelchair accessible toilets and how much access there is in and around the venue.
Communicate how accessible your show is with your audience
You should try to be as clear as possible with your audiences about whether your show is accessible or not. For example, if your show is captioned, you’ll absolutely want to mention that in your show listing as audiences can filter the Fringe programme according to their access needs.
“If a venue can’t be accessible, the worst thing you can do is not tell people,” says Matt Lord. You don’t want someone to buy a ticket and arrive at the venue and find out only when they get there that the show isn’t accessible for them.
The Edinburgh Fringe Society speaks with various expert organisations to ensure they collect as much information about the accessibility of a show as possible, such as whether the show’s contents would be suitable for relaxed performance audiences, whether they will need a BSL interpreter, etc. This information will be listed on their website and available for those planning to attend the Fringe, so it’s important that you supply them with the correct and appropriate information when asked.
The Edinburgh Fringe Society also has a Venue Access Award scheme to incentivise venues to provide accessibility information – and to make the venue as accessible as possible. Access training can be provided to the venue staff, meaning your audience can get the support they need.
The Pleasance Theatre Trust collates a lot of their information for the Fringe on Eventotron, which has a full accessibility section for you to complete if you’re putting on a show at one of their venues. Once completed, this will be emailed to various members of their team, who will liaise with you over specifics for your company’s access requirements and provide support through the process.
Communicate access requirements with your venue early on
When it comes to accessibility needs – both for yourself and your audience – Alan Gordon advises that you speak to your venue as early as possible: “The earlier your venue knows about that, the more they can either accommodate or be really honest and transparent about what it’s going to be like.”
The sooner you start this conversation, the sooner other people can support you.
The Edinburgh Fringe Society also encourages anyone with questions about the accessibility side of the Fringe to reach out to them. They can share information with you and connect you with organisations who will be able to help.
Putting on relaxed performances
A relaxed performance is a great way to accommodate those who might find going to a conventional theatre space quite stressful. Both the Edinburgh Fringe Society and the Pleasance Theatre Trust have questionnaires for you to fill out about the contents of your show, and from the answers given, they will make suggestions for altering the show for a relaxed performance.
Suggested changes may include things like dimming the lights, dampening any shifts in sound or lighting, allowing the audience to make noise, and making it possible for them to leave and come back as they wish.
Read the Edinburgh Fringe Society’s guide to relaxed performances for more information.
What resources are available to make your show accessible?
Captioning displays dialogue, sound effects and any off-stage noises in the form of text. It can be helpful for anyone in your audience who is hard of hearing, d/Deaf, has learning difficulties, or if English isn’t their first language.
There are various types of captioning that are suitable for different types of performances. For example, if your show is unscripted, you may want to look at live captioning with a speech-to-text reporter attending your performance. Do some research into captioning and speak to your venue to see if they have an existing relationship with a professional who can provide this service should you wish to include it in your show.
The Pleasance Theatre Trust works with Claire Hill, who comes to Edinburgh to see the shows and prepare the captions for them. If you let the Pleasance Theatre Trust know you want to caption your show, they will provide dates when Claire is available and put together the schedule for you. The necessary technical resources will also be taken care of. The Pleasance Theatre Trust’s team will go into the venue and set up the display option, and then Claire will go in to set up her capturing equipment.
Signed performances involve hiring a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter to translate or interpret your show for the benefit of anyone in the audience who is hard of hearing or d/Deaf. Some shows will opt to have an interpreter to the side of the stage to translate the performance – whereas other shows are developed with a BSL interpreter working alongside the production team and performers, so they are embedded in the performance itself.
You’ll need to make sure your venue has the space and lighting to accommodate the interpreter, so be sure to speak to them if this is something you’d like to include in your show. It’s also worth doing your research into interpreters who are comfortable with translating live performances, as not all of them are.
Audio description performances
Audio description involves the describer narrating what is happening in a performance during any pauses in dialogue or audio, and is useful for audience members who are blind, visually impaired or have learning difficulties.
An audio-describer will need to be in the room with the show, so you will need to make sure that there’s separation between them and the audience. Providing audio description can be slightly tricky – due to the need to get units, find describers, and restrictions on venue space – so, again, it’s worth chatting to your venue if you’re planning on providing this during your show.
Look into the costs, logistics and types of audio description that can be used and speak to the Edinburgh Fringe Society’s Equalities team who can help you get those units and find a time that will work for the running of your show. You will likely be referred to organisations such as the Edinburgh Fringe Society or VocalEyes, who will help you source the describers.
From all of us at Spotlight, a big thank you to Matt, Alan and Jonny for sharing their advice on accessibility at the Edinburgh Fringe!
More Edinburgh Festival Fringe advice:
- How to get funding for the Edinburgh Fringe
- Our guide to putting on an Edinburgh Fringe show
- Cost and budgeting tips for the Edinburgh Fringe
Image credit: Evgeniy-Shkolenko / iStock