Need a dose of the arts? Here’s where you can find the best, inclusive theatre experiences in Australia

a man on a wheelchair as part of Access Arts
a man on a wheelchair as part of Access Arts

Photo Credit: Stephen Henry Photography, supplied by Access Arts

Here at Mable, it’s not unusual to see requests on the platform from clients looking for independent workers to attend shows with them. We recently featured a post on AbilityFest, the first all-inclusive music festival and the brainchild of Dylan Alcott. For those of us who are more into theatre or comedy, we’ve taken a look at what festivals and venues around Australia are doing to provide a quality, inclusive experience.

The experience of someone with a disability attending a performance is determined by a range of factors. While many venues are accessible with recognizable features like ramps, elevators and accessible toilets, few are created and programmed with inclusion in mind.

Mable regularly works with clients who’d like to engage an independent support worker to attend a show or festival with them. Their experience is vastly improved at productions where inclusion has clearly been a priority from the outset. While the arts in Australia still has a long way to go, there are some events and venues that are leading the charge in this space. We take a look at a few of them.

Inclusive arts experiences around Australia

Throughout the year, Arts Centre Melbourne presents a program of accessible performances by some of the best Australian and international companies. The range of performances include those that are relaxed, Auslan interpreted, audio described, open captioned, highly visual and wheelchair accessible. Tactile tours of the venue are also available as well as an assistive hearing system in venues.

The Sydney Festival, held annually in January, has created a dedicated accessibility festival guide. It contains detailed information on disability programming, access and inclusion, mobility and information for hearing and sight impaired festival-goers.

Like many of the other festivals, The Adelaide Fringe, held in February and March, use symbols throughout their guide to indicate whether performances are audio described or auslan interpreted, relaxed, feature open captions or a hearing loop, are tactile or can be understood for non-English speakers. Events are also staffed by volunteer Access Champions to support patrons with specific requirements.

As reported here by the ABC, Perth Festival’s disability arts initiative is causing ripples in the industry with its commitment to increased accessibility and inclusion, as well as the expression of disability arts. The February event also uses access guides and symbols to provide an inclusive experience for attendees across all its venues. Also in WA, Sensorium Theatre is Australia’s only company making live shows specifically designed for young audiences with disabilities. In 2015, the company’s Oddysea was nominated for a Helpmann award and in 2017 toured to 8 cities and towns across Australia. A world-leader in inclusive theatre making, the productions are aimed at sparking imagination in audiences, who often display responses ordinarily difficult to elicit from them.

Disabled artists seeking greater representation

Disability inclusion in the arts is not just about the experience of the audience. It’s also about ensuring artists with a disability have equal opportunities and representation.

In 2018, Melbourne Fringe appointed writer Carly Findlay as inclusion coordinator. Her goal for her three year tenure? To increase the proportion of artists with disabilities to around 20 per cent, in line with representation within the general community. Accessibility is front at centre at the September festival, with Arts Access Victoria (AAV) taking on the role of accessibility partner. Led by people with disability, AAV provides access services including training in disability awareness.

Undercover Artist Festival, last held in 2017 but set to return in 2020, was developed by Access Arts. The first of its kind in Queensland, it aims to provide greater presentation opportunities for professional performing artists with disability and better representation in the industry, particularly by Australia’s Major Performing Arts Companies.A number of smaller production companies exist to also bridge this divide in representation of the community.  Back to Back Theatre in Geelong claims to ‘question assumptions about what is possible in Theatre’, while SA-based No Strings Attached creates original theatre through the unique perspectives of performers who live with disability. Weave Movement Theatre has a rich, 22-year history with performances that challenge conventional ways of seeing dance and disability.

If you’re a regular user of Mable, or just trying it out for the first time, you can use your NDIS funding to engage an independent support worker to accompany you to the latest shows in your neck of the woods. Post a job or search for support workers in your area today.