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Breaking Down the Barriers conference

We were pretty excited when we were asked to be on a panel at Breaking Down the Barriers: The Arts, Disability and Change conference at The Garage, Norwich.  For starters no one had ever asked us to be on a panel before, and for those of you who know us, you will know we do love to talk- especially about the work of Frozen Light.  We were also chuffed to be asked because this was a disability arts conference which had thought to try and include the voice of people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD).  We were excited that we had the opportunity to be on a panel and to be advocates for our audiences with PMLD, a community of people who are often forgotten in arts diversity and access conferences.  

For me the conference started a few days before with Adam Taylor’s (chief exec of The Garage) publication of a blog entitled Conferences over Consultancy.  Inspired.  It was a really honest post claiming The Garage wasn’t a leading expert in access and that wasn’t why they were holding this conference.  They were holding it because they want to learn from real people, people actually living this experience, and not only in the arts but other sectors- people trying to make things more accessible and leading by example.  Yes, he could have paid a consultant hundreds of pounds to tell him what to do but where is the learning, and the investment?  I really applaud his approach and couldn’t wait for the day.

For starters I was really impressed by the field leaders The Garage and co-hosts The Hub had managed to get to the event.  As summed up by Jamie Beddard (Agent for Change at The New Wolsey) “no mean feat to get such a varied and illustrious crowd to Norwich for 10am.” And yes, I think that is a valid point.  Often Norwich is too far away and not important enough for people to visit and it really felt like The Garage had managed to provide an offer that was too good to refuse.  It was also brilliant to see the amount of local participants that were representing the arts in Norwich and its desire to make itself more accessible. I think Norwich came off as a pretty darn exciting place to be based.

The day was started with a provocation from the always wonderfully articulate and inspiring Jess Thom (you can watch it here on youtube).  It then went to Jo Verrent and Becky Danns (from Unlimited) to present their postcards to the future.  What an idea!  Postcards from a world that is truly diverse, accessible and inclusive, a world I would really like to live in.  But, as the conference proved, we have a long way to go.  But I like to think that this conference was another great step on that journey.

The day then split into panel discussions covering topics including how organisations could work successfully with disabled artists and examining what taking part looks like.  There were then more informal open space breakout groups.  The one we went to asked “Is learning disability art and culture the poor relation of disability art and culture within the arts?”

This open space was really interesting to me as I often feel like the voice of people with learning disabilities is the one missing from these conferences.  But in reality, should this question have been a conference all to itself?  People with learning disabilities face many similar challenges as people with physical disabilities and sensory impairments.  They do however have an incredibly different lived experience and can face many more challenges in their lives. There is a wonderful annual conference by Creative Minds that looks at this issue and how actors and creatives with learning disabilities create high quality professional theatre and how it is valued within society.  Unfortunately we missed it this year.  But once again -do our audience with PMLD fit within that conversation?

So with all this on my brain we ate a fabulous lunch, provided by The Feed Norwich, (best vegan lunch I’ve ever had at a conference) and went into our panel discussion which focused on organisations who were already aiming to be accessible.  On our panel was Matthew Piper, Access Manager from Norwich Theatre Royal, Helen Drury from Intu shopping malls, Matthew Lindley, Unity Theatre as Chair and us.  Helen and Matthew Piper talked about audience and customer experience. What journey do people take when engaging with the theatre or a shopping mall and what they do to make that the most accessible and enjoyable experience possible?  We then spoke about how we make our work accessible for audiences with PMLD and how we work with theatre venues on tour to ensure our audience is getting the best experience possible from booking a ticket through to the end of the show.  We wanted to point out that although our work is relatively expensive for venues to programme due to our small audiences, that if they want to reach audiences with PMLD then this is a sacrifice they have to make.  We also though, wanted to put the expense into context and explain that for our audience a trip to the theatre is expensive and I’m not really talking about tickets.  Yes there is the outlay for the ticket but then there is the minibus or accessible taxi to get to the theatre, the additional care staff that are needed for the outing, the specialist equipment that is needed just so they can leave the house in the morning- the cost is not on the theatre makers and the venues alone.  By a venue making that sacrifice they are providing an opportunity for people with PMLD to access the theatre, something many of our audience have never done before.  We also, obviously, did a massive shout out to changing places as we think accessible toilets are very important!

The discussion was then opened up to the audience and I was a little surprised that no one really had any points to make.  Maybe we had all been so clear and precise that there was nothing left to say! I just hoped that we had been good advocates for audiences with PMLD and that we did our small bit to get their needs spoken about.  I left still feeling a little confused as to how our audience fit within the disability arts sector.

Our audience’s needs are so complex and as a group, people with PMLD are so invisible in society that I wonder if we need a conference to specifically discuss how we can make the arts more accessible for audiences with PMLD.  How can we make their needs more visible in society and how can we encourage more artists to create work for this audience?   

At conferences it can often feel like delegates are there to shout about their own projects, needs and desires (which is also what we do) and sometimes it feels like you hear everyones different issues as opposed to having conversations. What can be really tough is that everyone has such a valid fight to fight and with forever shrinking money and resources we are all desperate for our voices to be heard. Saying that since Breaking Down the Barriers has taken place we have already made a couple of great connections to develop new partnerships for the future.

Overall though a fascinating day in which I felt we made some new friends, had some challenging discussions and above all challenged ourselves and our thinking.

Lucy Garland

Co – Artistic Director, Frozen Light

PS: Throughout the day a manifesto was being drawn up from suggestions and points that delegates were making.  This has been drawn together and has provided an exciting document full of points that can be actioned and comments that can provoke thought and discussion.  This document is available online here and is worth a look at even if you didn’t attend the conference.

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Developing Audiences with Venues

Tour Reflections: Working with Venue Marketing Teams to Develop an Audience

So it’s been over six months since our mammoth UK-wide 47 venue tour of HOME ended, and over two months since we returned from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, performing for the second year running at The Pleasance. We’re at a very exciting stage at the moment, having begun the rehearsal and development phase for our next show. The creative team spent two weeks at Ovalhouse and Stratford Circus Arts Centre in September working on exciting new concepts for the next production and will continue to develop the show with more rehearsals during November at The Garage, Norwich and at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich – so watch this space!

Meanwhile, I (Administrator Zoë) have been reflecting on my role liaising with the marketing teams of each of the 47 venues during the HOME tour in Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017, in order to sell the show to our audience with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). This was the first time I had been involved with a Frozen Light tour, and my first time working on audience development, this is what I learnt:

Keep in Close Contact

At first I was worried about phoning too often, leaving too many voicemails or emails, but I quite soon realised that being in close contact with the marketing team at each venue (or whichever team or individual had been tasked with our show) is absolutely imperative for a number of reasons. Because our audience of teenagers and adults with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties is such a specific and under-engaged group within the arts, we are passionate that they are the main priority for venues to target. Maintaining a good dialogue with venue staff around three months before we were due to visit a tour venue worked best in ensuring that the venue team were entirely clear on exactly who our audience with PMLD are, to make sure that they get priority. After all, it is entirely for them that we make the show. The other reason that close contact between us and the tour venues was incredibly important was due to the small capacity of our shows. Because our shows are designed for six people with PMLD and six carers, support staff or family members, we have to keep a close eye on who those tickets have gone to. For people with PMLD, a trip to one of our shows is very often the first time they have been to live theatre in their community, and guidance from Mencap states that a lot of the anxiety around this can be eased by having a very small number of audience members. Frozen Light do supply a training video and handouts to answer questions that may come up a lot when marketing and selling our shows, so as long as venues watch and read them and we maintain a clear conversation and help them with any questions they may have about how to market and sell our shows, we can make sure people with PMLD coming to our shows have a positive and meaningful experience.

Direct Target Marketing

We completely appreciate that especially if it is the first time we have toured to a specific venue, it can be difficult to know where to find our audience and how to reach them. I think that this speaks to a larger problem within our society about the lack of visibility in the community of people with PMLD, which is something that through our commitment to touring to mainstream arts venues we’re trying to change – but that’s a blog for another day! One of the earliest conversations I would have with venue teams would be about any existing relationships they may have with people with PMLD and their families or carers in their local community. Some venues had really strong links with local special schools, day centres or residential homes, either through us touring to that venue with a previous show or through other accessible work they have programmed in the past. If venues didn’t have these existing links, I would research nearby special schools, day centres, residential homes and other places where our target audience could be reached, and pass this information onto the venue for them to target. The main challenge in this area was talking through just how different the approach has to be when reaching our audience with PMLD versus reaching another audience group. A lot of the usual channels of finding audiences or publicising shows that marketing teams use don’t work for our shows, simply because our audience don’t ‘live’ on Facebook or Twitter, and because of the lack of events in the community that are accessible to people with PMLD, their family members and carers won’t often won’t pick up a theatre brochure and expect to find an accessible theatre show on offer. The best ways to connect with our audience is through a direct phone call to a school or centre, or the activities co-ordinator for a residential care group or parents forum. In the past some venue staff have even had face-to-face meetings with some schools, bringing along our Visual Stories and Pre-show Guides with them to help talk about the show. We offer to help with the direct contacting as much or as little as the venues need it. Establishing those personal relationships over the phone (or even in person) with potential audience bases can be incredibly useful to venues not just in order to sell tickets to our shows, but to help them maintain these audience links for future accessible shows that the venue may programme.

Establish a Plan

Working on the audience development for the HOME tour has taught me how important it is to know who your main contact at each venue is, and to establish a collaborative plan together. For the majority of venues, I had a main contact (usually a member of the marketing or creative learning team, depending on who was in charge of targeting audiences) that I would liaise with over potential audiences and sales figures. Looking back, when first speaking to my main contact, I would’ve established a much clearer plan with some venues in terms of who is going to be doing what, and our expectations of when we’d like the majority of tickets to be sold by. Selling our show can be a very different experience to selling any other show, due to specificity of our audience, and particularly if we haven’t toured to that venue before or if the staff we’ve previously worked with has changed, it can mean creating a lot of audience relationships from scratch.

For us, an ideal audience development liaison between us and a venue would be us sharing our knowledge with the venue of local audience bases, places we’ve had enquiries from or had audiences from before, talking through the capacity of our shows so it is clearly understood, and then the venue teams doing the direct contacting themselves. We are always happy to help as much or as little as venues need it, and if venues need a little more help from us in terms of the direct contacting, this works much better when we know in advance. When organised, collaborative plans are established specifically with our audience’s needs in mind, I’ve seen first-hand how huge the demand for tickets can be, and how in a matter of days our shows can go from half-full or less to sold out with a waiting list.

During the tour of HOME, we worked with over 20  venues we had never toured to before, and so many others we had been to in the past but toured to for more days than we had before. It was  fantastic to see how enthusiastic so many of the venue staff were about our work, and how they really got behind what we do. We can’t wait to work with many of you again during the next tour, and together continue to reach local audiences with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities.

Zoe Fletcher
Administrator

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Back to blogging!

So we haven’t blogged in a really long time! Shameful I know. Work gets busy, life gets busy and what with touring, funding applications and creating new work, blogging always falls to the bottom of the list. As most of you know will already know Frozen Light create touring multi-sensory theatre for audiences with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD). When we are on the road I always have a brain full of blog ideas- things I get annoyed about and want to share with the world (where are all the changing places toilets?!!). Things that make me extremely happy and I want to shout about. But then, like today when I sit down to write those blogs, my brain is blank, nothing in it. I can’t remember any of those things that made me so angry I wanted to cry or so happy I also want to cry (I cry a lot).

I’ve been trying to write a blog about disability terminology and why we use the phrase ‘people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities’ when talking about our audience. It’s something we get asked about a lot so I wanted to take time to answer those questions. But I have been writing and re-writing for over an hour and nothing is coming out right (I promise to publish it soon…) so here I am, scrolling through Google looking for inspiration, looking for videos and articles about the lives of people with PMLD that will back up my ideas, that will make me sound more interesting. But guess what, I can barely find anything! Obviously, there is the wonderful PMLD Link but you need to subscribe to the Journal (which you should all do) to access the information. There is all the great stuff MENCAP put out in its Involve Me and Raising Our Sights projects but that was at least 5 years ago. Where are the people shouting about the rights of people with PMLD? Scope have an amazing YouTube channel that is really challenging the way society treats people with disabilities and again this is wonderful but where are the voices of people with PMLD?

I’m not saying that there is nothing out there because I am sure there is if you have time to scroll through mountains of websites but to me everything seems so dated and old, like once you have written about people with PMLD you don’t need to bother anymore (in this I am in no way including all the incredible blogs out there written by parents and carers of people with PMLD who do an amazing job of sharing people’s stories). Who I am talking about is the big national charities, the ones who champion the rights of people with learning disabilities, they do an incredible job but where is the voice of the people with PMLD? They are forgotten again. They are too quiet and too invisible. There is always someone who shouts louder, someone who is able to jump the queue in front of the person sitting quietly in a corner. It is so important that we don’t forget people with PMLD. People with PMLD are some of the most vulnerable and excluded people in society – we mustn’t forget them. I am putting together a list of the resources, articles and videos that I am finding- and will certainly be blogging about articles that inspire me in the future.

At Frozen Light we are trying to do our small bit to get the theatre sector talking about our audience. Training them to see what an important audience people with PMLD are and how just by making small adjustments you can easily open your doors and make your venue more accessible to this audience. But maybe we are not shouting loud enough. We only visit theatres once every two years when we have a new show. What can we do to ensure that these theatres keep having an offer so that people with PMLD can access the theatre more than once every two years? How can we leave a legacy for our audience? These are issues we are trying to tackle. We have been invited to be on a panel at an upcoming disability arts conference, this signals a change because often at events like this people with PMLD are not on the agenda. We are looking to run more artist training schemes to encourage more artists to realise what an exciting group this is to make work for and how, working in a sensory way can really expand the way you think about theatre and art. We will continue to champion changing places toilets and share information about them wherever we go. But we want to do more- we need to do more. How can we use our platform to shout out for people with PMLD to make them more visible in society? Answers on a postcard please!

Lucy Garland
Co-Artistic Director

The Forest tour comes to an end

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Sorry it has been a while since we have blogged, tour came to an end and it was straight into preparations for the new show, but more about that later. Our great intentions of consistent blogs about the venues we toured to came to an end due to the intensity of performing two shows a day, getting the set in and out, the miles of driving and touring with 3 children under 3 (+ 3 grandparents!) Firstly let us tell you about how The Forest tour went:

We visited 26 venues from end of August 2015 – beginning of December 2015. We reached 402 people with PMLD, 411 Carers, 34 additional family members (some carers were family carers), 179 additional people (students, artists, general public), 160 members of Theatre staff and 13 members of press. Overall The Forest played to 1199 people.

We made some wonderful connections with venues. For many venues it was the first time they had programmed a show specifically for our audiences needs. The Forest really opened their eyes to the possibilities of working with audiences with PMLD again in the future. We hope to return to most of these venues with our next production ‘Home’. We also returned to a number of venues we had taken Tunnels to. We saw some of the same audiences that had been to see Tunnels and it was really heart-warming how we were welcomed back by theatre staff and audiences.

During The Forest tour we also spoke to a lot of other artists and students about our work and the methodologies behind it. We really hope that our enthusiasm has rubbed off on some of these people and there will be more work created for audiences with PMLD in the near future.

The Forest tour was full on, especially being on the road with all our children and grandparents, but we had the best time. We visited towns we had never been to, met fantastic enthusiastic theatre staff but most of all we enjoyed engaging with our audience and their families and carers. I will leave you with some audience quotes from the tour:

Thank you so much for a fabulous morning! It was a real joy to see the communication and interaction between yourselves and the students. Every single student engaged with your production throughout and every one of them thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Teacher – Bordon Pheonix

Extremely impressed with the professionalism, thought and planning that allowed Ellie to partake and enjoy, despite this being a day when her epilepsy was active and can interrupt her enjoyment. Would highly recommend. Mum – Attenborough Arts Centre

Lauryn is tactile defensive and places/environments like these that are unfamiliar are challenging. However, she loved it. Even the few things she was unsure about were tolerated so well. Your team are fantastic. Thank you. Respite Carer – Attenborough Arts Centre

All of our pupils were engaged and enjoyed the show. It’s great to have something aimed at PMLD people. Teacher – Grand Pavillion

Exceptional, inspiring. Mark responded in a way I haven’t seen before. Carer – Dorchetster Arts

Absolutely fabulous. Rachel LOVED it and followed everything. She usually falls asleep in the afternoons. I was moved to tears with how well she reacted – as did all our children. Teacher – The Garage

What can I say? Such talented performers. Amazing, very creative and inspirational performance. Entirely inclusive, loved every moment, a treat for all the senses! Respite Carer – The Garage

I felt the show was inspired. Very personal and inclusive. The time spent with the individuals was really nice. It wasn’t rushed and very non-judging. Excellent. Mum – Gulbenkian

 

Dundee Rep

We are so pleased to visit Dundee as it is home to PAMIS, the only organisation dedicated to working specifically with people with PMLD and their families in the UK.  PAMIS do amazing work and we hope some of the families they support will come and see The Forest.

We visited Dundee Rep last year and performed in the fabulous space at Bonar Hall.  As a company it is really exciting to be programmed again at such a prestigious venue as it shows they have a commitment to opening their doors to people with PMLD.  

Interesting fact about Dundee:
The inventor of the adhesive postage stamp, James Chalmers, was born in Dundee in 1782.

Nearest Changing Places Toilet:
PAMIS
Springfield House,
15/16 Springfield University of Dundee,
Dundee, DD1 4JE

See you on tour!

Lucy Garland, Frozen Light

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Platform- Glasgow

e0ed7f81bc7b4ead96505df78c81e87bWe are super excited to go back to Platform.  When we visited last year with Tunnels we had a great time and were really impressed with how embedded the venue is in its local community.  Platform is based in The Bridge which is a multi-purpose venue in Easterhouse, Glasgow East.  It includes a library, swimming pool, café and theatre.  To us this seems like a great way of getting different and diverse communities through the door.

Platform has a number of inivative projects to use arts to improve the health and wellbeing of its local community.  It also works closely with local artists.  As part of this we will be running an artists workshop to share our practice on creating work for audiences with PMLD.

We also LOVE Glasgow.  It is such a cool city with so many vegan restaurants.  It is heaven for us, so expect us to come home from Glasgow a stone heavier as we plan on eating all the Vegan food.

Nearest Changing Places Toilet:Tollcross International Swimming Centre
360 Wellshott Road,
Tollcross, Glasgow,
G32 7QP
Tel: 0141 2768282

See you on tour!!

Lucy Garland, Frozen Light

 

Arena Theatre- Wolverhampton

This post is coming to you DURING our time at Wolverhampton- it’s always great to do two days at a venue as you get a really good sense of where you are performing and the local area. Having a great time at Arena Theatre, they had so much interest for The Forest that they booked us for an additional day. Audiences today have been wonderful and we just received a beautiful thank you email from the first group that came which is great as we love hearing from our audiences.  The audiences from the second show today were also fab and there was a lot of laughter shared by both performers and audience members which was loads of fun for everyone involved.

Looking forward to tomorrow and next stop Scotland!

See you on tour!!

Amber Onat Gregory, Frozen Light

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The Courtyard – Hereford

Again you are getting this blog entry post visit, but again this gives us a chance to let you know about the shows.  We had a lovely time at The Courtyard.  The theatre is relatively new and is a stunning building.  It has an amazing foyer and café area (we had a very scrummy healthy lunch) and I know some of our audience really enjoyed making use of these facilities.  This is what it is all about for us, people with PMLD being able to make a real day out from their trip to the theatre.

Both shows were lovely and we had a wonderful group come from a local trust that really enjoyed the show.  Lots of the staff from the venue also came to see the show which for us is brilliant as it really gets theatre venues talking about multi-sensory work for audiences with PMLD.  

See you on tour!

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Blackwood Miners Institute

Tour has been so busy and due to this we didn’t manage to get this post out before we visited Blackwood Miners Institute.  But in a way I am glad as now I can fill you in on how the shows went.

We had two lovely shows in Blackwood, both to adult audiences.  The venue are hugely dedicated to building their audience base of people with PMLD and hopefully The Forest has started that journey.  They have a relaxed performance of their pantomime coming up in December, so if you are in the area this is worth a look.  We met some lovely staff at Blackwood who have a real commitment to their local community and we hope to there again in the future. 

This was our first visit to South Wales and we are excited to head back to the area in a few weeks when we visit Grand Pavillion in Porthcawl.  

See you on tour!

Lucy Garland, Frozen Light

 

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Live Theatre, Newcastle

It is going to be brilliant visiting Live Theatre.  The venue has shown such a commitment to our work which makes our lives so much easier when it comes to organising our tour.  Live Theatre is so excited to build relationships with audiences with PMLD and is dedicated to creating a welcoming theatre venue that is open to all.  We feel that as a company we fit really well with the ethos of Live theatre and are excited to be working with them.

The theatre is in a beautifully refurbished fully accessible building and is a real treat for anyone visiting.

Apparently polls have reported that Newcastle is the politest city in England.

Nearest Changing Places Toilet –
Wow Newcastle wins the prize for the most changing places of anywhere we are touring to.  Within 1 mile of Live Theatre there are 8 Changing Places, within Newcastle and Gateshead there are 18!

City Library – Charles Avison Building
New Bridge Street
West Newcastle upon Tyne,
NE1 8AX
Tel: 0191 2774100

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