Ellie Harris: Help needed: How do I engage Deaf and hard of hearing audiences in the arts in Gloucester?

Posted on September 11, 2017

Hi! I’m a producer and marketing bod for Strike A Light: a charitable Arts organisation based in Gloucester, working in partnership with Battersea Arts Centre.

We’re made up of five kick-ass women who have been striving to bring accessible, high quality, professional performance to a city which currently has absolutely zero year-round theatre/performance programming (no, really!).

We have worked with Unlimited to bring in small pots of money to allow us to pay for a BSL interpreter for one of our shows each season.

However, I’m having a little trouble and I thought you might be able to help. I came across Limping Chicken through a tip-off and the lovely Charlie suggested I reach out via this blog.

In April we had the incredible ‘Bucket List’ by internationally renowned theatre company, Theatre Ad Infinitum. A political thriller about one woman’s revenge on the US president (very timely, I must say). The show was on for two nights at Gloucester Guildhall, one of which was BSL interpreted with an integrated signer, Jo Ross.

Tickets to this performance were up to £10 – we always like to keep our performances financially accessible and refuse to charge, as other venues might, upwards of £10 for a performance of this calibre.

“Great!”, I thought, “a brilliant performance for next-to-nothing, coupled with BSL Interpretation that’s fully integrated. This should be an easy push”. How naïve I was…

Here’s a few of the avenues I tried to publicise the BSL performance:

*Print distribution & social media
*Becoming a paying member of Signed Culture (plus ‘phone calls with them about engaging audiences)
*Sending info out through the Gloucestershire Deaf Association
*..and through the Deaf groups at our local colleges
*Contacted Jenny Hopkins, CEO of GDA
*Targeting every Gloucestershire and slightly further afield (Bristol, Herefordshire, Worcestershire) group that I could, via Facebook
*I direct messaged someone about the show who had, quite rightly, complained to a local Gloucester cinema via Facebook back in 2015 for removing their subtitled screenings
*I approached a table of people I saw signing in the Watershed in Bristol by signing “sorry” and then handing them a note with details about the performance on….

I’d also organised a fantastic woman called Lesley Reeve from the BSL college to welcome any Deaf and hard of hearing audiences on their arrival at the venue, who was briefed to answer any questions our audiences might have, and I had ensured we’d had the hearing loop checked properly before the festival.

To mine and Lesley’s knowledge, we didn’t have a single Deaf or hard of hearing audience member in for that performance and it felt deflating to know that, despite all best efforts, I’d not managed to reach any local communities.

Now, none of us are Deaf or hard of hearing at Strike A Light and I know that having an ‘in’ to a group or community is the most effective way on reaching the right people.

It feels really important, not just to sell tickets to our performances, but to ensure there is an offer of culture to as many of the right people as possible during our festival.

I’d love to hear any comments / advice on how we might build our audiences to include Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Our next BSL interpreted performance is award winning ‘Ross & Rachel’ by James Fritz Thursday 12 October 8pm at Gloucester Academy: https://www.strikealightfestival.org.uk/events/ross-rachel/.

The signing is not integrated this time as it’s a one woman show set in a shallow pool of water and we felt a bit mean asking Elizabeth, our signer, to don her swimming costume for the evening…!

How do I reach you and what would make you come to a high-quality night of performance?

Thank you so much in advance.
Yours desperately,
Ellie Harris – ellie@strikealightfestival.org.uk

Ellie Harris is a freelance Events Manager and Producer working in the Arts, based in the South West. She’s currently Strike A Light Festival’s Marketing and Events Manager, Green Man Festival’s Settlement Manager, and is currently producing Bristol-based company Wattle & Daub, as well as Bootwork’s Theatre’s new show The JukeBoxes. Outside of work she likes to spend her time swimming in the sea and eating crisps (not at the same time).

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