A lot more goes into creating an accessible work environment for your artists than creating an accessible production and performance space.
Unsure of whether you need to shift your practice in order to be more inclusive? Ask yourself:
- How do you find/engage your artists?
- Does the technology you use prevent certain artists from engaging or participating in your art?
- Does accessibility currently factor into your budget?
- Does the way you structure your rehearsals prevent certain artists from engaging or participating in your art?
- What are your main methods of communication inside and outside of the rehearsal room? Do you communicate with everyone this way?
- What safety concerns have you (or the artists you've engaged) had in your work? Were those issues addressed? How?
In addition to the considerations outlined in Audience Accessibility, here are some artist-specific things to think about when you are preparing to engage with your artists:
When posting auditions or job offers, language is important. Are you using language that may wittingly or unwittingly discourage people from applying? Have you included accessibility information in the posting? Are you able to accommodate specific access needs during the audition and interview process? Who can the applicant contact about that?
You may think: I posted the job, but no one applied. It may be that the platforms you are posting on are not accessible. Ask yourself: Are the platforms you are posting on easy to navigate for artists with disabilities? Who uses them? Who “doesn’t”?
If you are looking to engage artists from specific disciplines or groups for the first time, you need to look! Research resources, networks and platforms that cater to those artists. Research previous productions that have featured an inclusive cast and crew. Email artistic directors and agencies.
Consider your intentions when asking artists from marginalized communities to do the work for you. These artists are often asked to provide intellectual and emotional labour for free. Be wary of contacting individual artists for a list of names, unless you are planning on compensating them. The likelihood is they will need to compile a list for you. It is important to recognize that the time, effort and energy this takes has value.
When engaging artists with disabilities, you must ensure that all documents, resources and correspondence can be read and reviewed by all people with ease and clarity. Your contract, script, rehearsal schedule etc. should all be formatted in such a way that allows for assistive and interpretive software to translate the information clearly and accurately. More on creating accessible documents and websites here
Your contract should be an accessible document that takes into account what you and the artist need to create a safe work environment. If you are engaging an artist with a disability, you may want to have a conversation about what they need, and create this agreement together. It is important to be clear on what you the engaging company are responsible for and what is outside of your responsibilities during the engagement process.
What is an Access Need?
what is needed to create an environment where each individual has the needs (resources, practices, information, comfort, etc.) they need to create and be creative safely.
How do you want to discuss access needs with your team? At which point of the process? This is a personal decision and will be based on your values and the values of the company. One way to engage your team early and as a group is to ask the following question at the first production meeting/rehearsal/read-through:
“Does anyone in the room have any access needs they would like to/feel comfortable sharing that will better enable your ability or practice during our time together?”
Some artists with disabilities may need a support worker. If this applies to you, reach out to the Public Funders to get special funding ahead of time. Creative support workers are trained to navigate the rehearsal room. They are there to support the artist so that they can be safe, creative and believable. A support worker will cost the same as the actor, so you will need to make it another line in the budget. Consider how the support worker can be included into the performance in a believable and creative way.
Creating an accessible work environment will create added costs. Put them into your budget early! Make finding the money and time to create an accessible work environment a “priority”. Talk to funders about what resources are available to you, and apply for grants. The Ontario Arts Council has a number of granting programs that were created specifically to meet the needs of artists who are Deaf or have a disability, including Application Support and Project Support.
Some examples of accessibility-related line items are: ASL Interpreters, Support Workers, Transportation. There are standard Fees and Rates for these services, so budget accordingly.
Not everything will be a new line item, so go through your budget and consider the difference in cost between each line item (i.e. cost of non-accessible venue vs. accessible venue).
If you intend on working with ASL interpreters, described audio, support workers or artists with disability, you will need to include the time for it your production and rehearsal schedule. Budgeting the time early will make for a healthier and happier working environment for everyone involved. Learn more about Working with Deaf Artists here
We've heard it before: actions speak louder than words. The most important piece of creating a safe and inclusive work environment is the culture you create. Shifting your behaviour and artistic process to include the needs of others can be as simple as this:
- Be Direct
- Communicate Often
- Communicate Clearly
- Provide Solutions
- See Opportunities
- Be Generous
Another approach is AFFIRM:
Ask what people need
F be Flexible
F be Fearless
Repeat (ask again!)
You can share these ideas and approaches with your team. Include everybody! You are creating a culture of inclusion and that requires the involvement of everyone involved.
- Deaf Artists and Theatres Toolkit: an initiative by Cahoots Theatre to include Deaf artists and programming considerations through all aspects of production from initial production meetings to stage.
- Diversetheatrebc: a digital platform under development that will promote and foster intersectional interculturalism throughout the BC professional theatre sector. Its central tool would be a fully searchable database of Indigenous and culturally diverse theatre artists – performers, playwrights, directors, designers, stage managers, and other theatre professionals – to which engagers (theatre companies, film/TV casting directors, independent directors and producers) may access as subscribers.
- Download an accessible pdf of Focus on Disability & Deaf Arts in Canada, A Report from the Field by Rose Jacobson and Geoff McMurchy, created in 2012. This report introduces readers to the basic language used in current discourse around disability arts, provides examples of culturally-specific and integrated projects and organizations that constitute the sector, and some of the art forms that require resources, technologies and capacity-building to flourish. It concludes with some basic recommendations for change to funders, art service organizations and producers/trainers.
- Ontario Arts Council information videos : The Ontario Arts Council has information videos with closed captions and that are translated into ASL about their programs for Deaf Artists and Artists with Disabilities.
- Tangled Arts and Disability: Tangled Arts and Disability works to enhance opportunities for artists with disabilities.
- Stage Left: Stage Left Productions is an independent performing arts collective of diverse artists based out of Calgary who create innovative, intercultural fusions of Disability, Feminist & Queer Art.
- Red dress productions: a Toronto-based, not-for-profit, professional arts company that creates and disseminates interdisciplinary art and performance projects. RDP works with and in communities on community-engaged public artworks.