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Accessibility Labs

October 20, 202120 October 2021

Deaf and disability arts

Theatre Passe Muraille

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With the idea that “making theatre accessible makes the work better and leads to more exciting experiences for everyone”, Toronto-based Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) tested a range of accessibility methods in workshops that took place months before a work would be put on stage. TPM’s Accessibility Labs explored “how accessibility initiatives can be a more ingrained part of an artistic process”. The online summary of the project indicates that each week-long workshop, dedicated solely to accessibility, allowed artists to “create work that is more innovative, aesthetically aligned and accessible”.

TPM created a seven-part video documentary series to report on their explorations related to challenges such as making dance shows accessible to Deaf and Blind audiences, incorporating Deaf culture and American Sign Language (ASL) into the narrative and form of a new opera, and providing ASL interpretation via augmented reality on various devices. For brevity, this summary provides examples from two of the seven videos.

The fourth video highlights discussions regarding how a Deaf artist and a hearing artist can work together without ASL-English interpretation, specifically in low-budget environments. The artists readily admit that there were substantial challenges in trying to figure out how best to communicate with each other. Challenges can be rewarding, however: their initial communications difficulties led to a script idea regarding how a hearing person in real-world conditions (without an ASL interpreter) could communicate with a Deaf person. In the end, perseverance was key to their artistic progress.

The seventh episode explores the development of a virtual show in which two disabled artists played key creative roles (playwright/performer and set/costume designer). The set and costume designer was not able to be present in the theatre, and the collaboration proceeded with most artists present and the designer contributing virtually. To counter the tendency for people to relate more easily to those who are physically present, TPM’s technical team worked to give set and costume designer a strong presence, using microphones, a large screen, and speakers. Still, it was sometimes challenging to remember to fully engage with the person who was only present onscreen. Because the play was going to be filmed and distributed online, the team had to shift their approaches to storytelling and visual elements.

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