Deaf Accessible Show Deemed Not Accessible Enough By Edinburgh Fringe
Hot Coals Theatre, specialists in d/Deaf theatre for seven years and with a deaf theatremaker at the helm, have been told that their d/Deaf accessible show (the latest in a long line of d/Deaf accessible shows) falls outside of the Edinburgh Fringe Access Team's requirements for listing the show as accessible, as the show does not provide BSL interpretation or closed captioning.
Clare-Louise English, a deaf producer/performer at the company, says: "We've been disappointed to discover that our show, Knock Knock, seems to fall outside the Fringe's access criteria. These criteria must be flexible - they must not be playing catch up with what's happening in the industry, and they must be based on a real understanding of what d/Deaf accessibility is, otherwise they're in danger of being a barrier - and in our case, stopping our work from reaching the very audience it was intended for."
Hot Coals Theatre, whose patron is Deaf performer and director Caroline Parker MBE, are critically acclaimed for their work in creating inclusive theatre for both d/Deaf and hearing audiences, taking all spoken and signed language out of their work and creating their own visual and universal language on stage, with every sound cue matched to a lighting or visual cue on stage, creating a shared experience between d/Deaf and hearing audiences. A recent review said: "Knock Knock represents the new school of disability theatre: raw, entertaining, integrated".
Clare-Louise English continues: "As a deaf theatre maker, it saddens me to think that there's not been a more inclusive atmosphere of open conversations with companies making accessible work, that challenges the conventional. We'd like to see the Fringe adopting a more modern understanding of deaf-accessible theatre, with an over-arching category of accessibility with sub-categories about how the performance is accessible - ie. Captions, BSL interpreted or integrated, no spoken word/visual theatre, etc."
"As a deaf theatre-goer, I find it worrying to learn that these conversations are not happening."
UPDATE - a representative of Edinburgh Festival Fringe has supplied the following comment:
The current access categories we have are:
Audio Enhancement System
Wheelchair Accessible Toilets
Sight not needed
Hearing not needed
"We list shows that tell us they are BSL interpreted/signed or captioned and as the show Knock Knock doesn't include these it would be misleading to audiences to list it as such. In response to consultation with D/deaf people Hearing not Needed was added this year to help audiences to find all shows that are suitable for D/deaf people.
"In 2018/19 we ran two focus groups with D/deaf people. One was made up of D/deaf performers and arts professionals, and the other was mainly D/deaf audience members. Both focus groups raised the difficulty of finding shows which are suitable for D/deaf audiences but don't have captioning or BSL. We spoke to both focus groups - and one of Scotland's leading disability-led theatre companies Birds of Paradise - about introducing this new category, and all were in favour of it. We currently have both Hearing not Needed and Sight not Needed as new categories this year.
"We are working hard to engage the D/deaf community, including working with Deaf Action, and regularly consult with Solar Bear as we look for ways to make the Fringe more inclusive for everyone. Hot Coals suggestions of how we could make the listings better are very welcome and we are in further consultation with them."