What's it like to be a disabled performer at the Edinburgh Fringe?

  • The List
  • 23 July 2015

This article is from 2015

What's it like to be a disabled performer at the Edinburgh Fringe?

The Misfit Analysis

Five artists on how the festival can improve accessibility

We asked a few disabled performers and companies performing and staging work at this year's Edinburgh Fringe for their viewpoints on what would make the festival more accessible and supportive for them, and consequently disabled audiences. Here are their thoughts.

Robert Softley Gale, Artistic Director, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company
'The first obvious issue is physical access. Edinburgh is a pretty difficult city for those of us with mobility issues to get around and wheelchair accessible accommodation is hard to come by. I'm pretty lucky as a local because I have knowledge of backstreets, hidden parking bays and Edinburgh's great bus system (all of our buses are wheelchair accessible) so I can generally get around without much difficulty. We need to find a way to get this knowledge out to other disabled artists. The other big barrier is the demands that a fringe run puts on performers. In 2013 I did 27 consecutive shows at the Pleasance and it just about killed me! How can we offer disabled artists the exposure and opportunities that a Fringe run brings but still work within their fatigue levels?
Wendy Hoose, The Assembly Rooms, 17–30 Aug, 3.30pm.

Garry Robson, Artistic Director, Fittings Multimedia Arts
'To make the Fringe more accessible to disabled performers, we need a greater range and variety of accessible venues. Whilst the Fringe has made some progress in making itself more accessible to deaf or disabled audience members, there's still a real shortage of fully accessible spaces for performers. Whilst some of the major venues achieve this, it's rare to find full access in the cheaper end of Fringe venues. Many disabled performers are self producing, self promoting and poor, particularly at this moment when the deaf and disabled community is under financial attack from this austerity obsessed Government. Yet the more economic range of venues are often denied to them because they are inaccessible.'
Edmund the Learned Pig, Summerhall, 24–30 Aug, 11.20am.

Kinny Gardner, Artistic Director, Krazy Kat Theatre Company
'Krazy Kat's sign language performances for children encourage access for ALL. With a newly spawned flurry of mainstream interest in relaxed performances, performing artists have become increasingly aware of the subtlety of reaction in mixed ability audiences, and the concerns of pace, repetition and, perhaps most importantly, volume. Given the contemporary trend towards schools integrating sometimes quite severe mixed ability children into their own "mainstream", there is a growing and welcome trickle-down effect into public performances. The audiences we are creating for are changing. We must now expect the Fringe to continue the discovery and development of this new, integrated disabled-led style of work ethos.'
Cinder-Ella, Pleasance Courtyard, 5–23 Aug (not 12, 17), 10am.

Nadia Nadarajah, Performer, Can I Start Again Please
'As a Deaf person who uses British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language, more opportunities to have information on video in BSL would be great. It would help to have a section in the brochure that lists all the accessible performances in one place (as well as in their original category). There could also be listings for events that are very visual or use minimal text. I think the Fringe could benefit from having an "Agent for Change" within the organisation, with a remit of creating better opportunities within the Fringe for Deaf and Disabled artists. This will help support the recent demand by Peter Bazalgette for a "fundamental shift" in attitudes to diversity.' [This article is a written translation from British Sign Language]
Can I Start Again Please, Summerhall, 5–30 Aug (not 10, 17), 2.50pm.

Cian Binchy, Performer, The Misfit Analysis, presented by Access All Areas
'One of the things we've noticed most of all is the lack of artists with autism at the Fringe. It's exciting to be working with Access All Areas and the Wellcome Trust to develop my new show The Misfit Analysis, and it's been a good example of what accessibility really means for autistic artists. I have autism – I'm not in a wheelchair and I don't need a sign language interpreter. The access support needed by artists with learning disabilities such as autism are more nuanced, and it's important that people get used to the nuances around disability. The more venues do to work with companies like Access All Areas, and learning disabled artists, the more normal it will be for the arts industry to understand that everyone's different, and we all need different types of support to create exciting new work.'
The Misfit Analysis, Pleasance Courtyard, 23–31 Aug, 2.15pm.

Read our round-up of audio-described shows and performances at Fringe 2015.