How do we open theatre to learning disabled people - both as performers and audience

Annabel Bannister, 22 June 2012

Attended by Annie, Phelim, Matilda, Riddley and Ragnar

Although I had originally envisaged a discussion about the different approaches to making theatre with Learning Disabled people - adults and children, the conversation quickly led around to how do we welcome/cope with severely learning disabled people in the audience.

For my part, the question was a result of a discussion I'd had some time ago with a theatre goer who had had his experience of an opera ruined by an audience member who was clearly disabled and was makjng loud, involuntary noises. The person I was speaking to had been very annoyed that the disabled audience member was not taken out of the auditorium by their carer. The performance, an non-amplified opera, had been completely drowned out. My feelings on the subject were also informed by the experience of taking my theatre mad Learning Disabled son to the theatre and other people's reaction to him.

One way forward is to provide performances specifically for LD people - but this risks ghetto-isation of them. Many cinemas now do ‘Autism Friendly Screenings’ - no low lighting/noise allowed/fewer ‘rules’. It works brilliantly. Could theatre do the same? Do we want it to - and risk the segregation of a section of the population - or do we want integration?

We discussed how all theatre is an altered state....LD audience members are just in a ‘different’ altered state.

We also discussed how theatre is seen in a cultural situation - what is the norm for theatre in Leicester may not be the same in Vietnam and different ‘rules’ of audience behaviour apply.

Theatre already acknowleges audience disability - signed performances/warnings about flashing lights/audio description. If the audience were ‘warned’ from the start that this was a ‘noisy’ performance - with children/babies/disabled people there
- would it make a difference? Be acceptable?

Would ‘normal’ audiences maybe like to come along to a performance where they knew from the start that they could relax/wander around/not have to sit rigidly?

Could theatre companies cope with giving a performance where there might be loud and unexpected audience feedback?

Theatre Companies that do Childrens' Performances already deal with/welcome interaction from the audience. Is it different when an adult does it?

Maybe the way forward is to try these ‘announced’ performances and see where it goes.


learning disability, noise, children, special needs