A man with red hair stands by the coast on a gloomy day. On his back are a pair of feathered brown wings.
The Tale. Photo by Warren Orchard

Finding out what’s behind The Tale

In September, something rather extraordinary comes to the South West. Described as ‘a journey of discovery across Torbay, from the streets of Torquay, through hidden coves of Paignton and the historic harbour of Brixham to the quarry of Berry Head’, The Tale offers the chance to experience the hidden stories, sounds and dreams of this beautiful part of the country like never before. To find out more about their access plans and how disabled creatives have been instrumental in their creation, Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited popped down to Paignton for a meet up with Michael Prior, Associate Producer for The Tale, and others…

First, a bit of background. Unlimited was approached by Situations as they put in their Ambitions for Excellence application to Arts Council England, which provided funding for The Tale. We are named partners in the bid and contributed some additional funds through Unlimited Impact to ensure access could be a significant part of their process and that they could place disabled creatives at the centre of that.

One of the key aspects of The Tale is its rootedness in unusual spaces and places across the coast. This is an area where Situations have considerable experience – and one which provides opportunities for access as often, everyone (not just disabled people) may have felt unable or unwelcome to enter some of the spaces and places they choose to use. Rather than bringing in formal access consultants, Unlimited suggested talking to South West based disabled creatives – such as David Ellington and Hugh Malyon, from Doorstep Arts – and taking creative suggestions from them about how to best develop strands of participation and access that most suited the work (such as the great BSL introduction).

Equally, the role of hosts to welcome, explain and contextualise sites and elements of the work is critical – and the aim is to ensure disabled people are as much a part of that mix as they are of the artists working on the project (Claire Cunningham is one of the named artists involved). With such a work that covers multiple outdoor locations, not everything can be made accessible to everyone, but the principles of access are there and the questions are being asked. One of my favourite access options is that an audience member will be able to vary the way they experience the work. It’s designed as a one or two day event – but for many of us with fatigue related needs, a full day is not always possible, and so there are options being planned that enable people to take the work at their pace – in small ‘bites’ over a couple of weekends, for example.

It was acknowledged that the usual way to develop access plans is as a ‘bolt on’ – near the end of the work someone remembers there is a box needing to be ticked, and so puts a few access solutions in place. Not this time. Having gained significant time and resources through the planning process, it really was a case of ‘if not now, when?’ as all the usual excuses had been removed – there WAS enough time, there WAS enough money and there WAS enough expertise. Along with access to marketing, websites and the routes that people find out information, The Tale team has worked hard to think about all areas of access differently.

Time and its implications for planning came up again and again – if the time becomes pressured, organisers tend to retreat to what they know, reducing the risk taking that may be needed to get different results and include a wider range of people. And planning needs to include options – not everything will work perfectly each time. As David Ellington said “It’s not just having a plan B or plan C. We need to be prepared to go to plan Z!”

It was recognised that despite the arts crying out for wider audiences and deeper engagement, health and social care contacts within local authorities are rarely approached. The Tale is making this part of their strategy, not only for audiences, but for hosts and participants too.

Working with creatives was roundly praised as being a great way to learn – and a great way to have equal conversations. As Hugh said, “In relation to disability, I’m only an expert in my own level of CP. But in terms of theatre and art – that’s an area where I can have conversations”. It’s a great way of ‘reframing’ disabled people too. Rather than passive audiences or ‘needy’ participants, it shows us as the full, creative human beings we are – and has led to a number of disabled people becoming involved in areas of delivery.

Everyone around the table felt that the learning occurring as part of The Tale will benefit others – the board, the partners and beyond. The top three takeaways for anyone wanting to ensure access and inclusion are part of their delivery?

Time – it takes time to build relationships, explore possibilities, find solutions, make contacts – start immediately and give yourselves as much time as possible. The more time – the better the result

Direct involvement of disabled people – find disabled people and talk to them; artists, creatives, participants, volunteers. This is where the learning is. Not all disabled people are ‘experts’ in access, but they are experts in their own lived experience and often in a whole host of other things besides.

Creative solutions – opt for embedded creative solutions rather than standardised ‘off the shelf’ ones, give yourself time to flex, and give power and control over to disabled people themselves in order to make stuff happen.

If you want to find out more about going beyond tick boxes and happen to be at Edinburgh Fringe this summer, come along and find out more from Unlimited and our allies.