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Making Art Accessible: Tim Jeeves on how he reworked "The Kindness of Strangers"

In mid-September, Tim Jeeves and Michael Achtman worked at the Bluecoat on making Tim’s performance ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ more accessible to a Deaf and disabled audience before presenting it in this year’s DaDaFest festival. Below is a conversation exploring the motives and creativity behind the reworking of the piece.

For more information on the performance and to book your tickets please click here.


M:     What was the motivation for you to re-examine The Kindness of Strangers, and what were the biggest challenges you anticipated in terms of making the performance accessible?

 

T:     I’m really pleased to have the chance to return to KoS for DaDaFest. It’s a piece that I feel manages to transform a personal trauma intosomething of interest to a wider audience, without needing to resort to telling an ‘inspirational’ story. 

The time to think about access that we’ve had has been a real privilege – even if I was quite daunted by the prospect before we begun. I anticipatedthat the biggest challenge would be around the performance’s format. Central to how the piece works is the relationship I have in the space with the audience; at various points I play with the divide between audience and performer, I become the audience and they become the performer. I must admit that I was quite stumped as to how we’d tackle access at some of those moments.

What about you? Did you anticipate any particular challenges relating to the unusual way we were addressing access, i.e. by ‘inserting’ it into an already developed piece of work rather than working from the ground up?

 

M: It’s sort of a rule of good practice to think about access from the start of the creative process rather than try to “bolt it on” when the piece is finished. But not every piece benefits from that approach, and sometimes artists need the space to work out the structure and dynamics of a piece before addressing how to make it accessible. In reality, there’s a lot of work out there that has not been created with access in mind, so working this way is a good template for how to make an already existing piece inclusive.

My biggest concern was not to override the aesthetic of KoS, which is a promenade piece where the audience roams and shifts, and it’s got this messy or chaotic feeling with objects set all over the space, props on the floor etc. I was really excited that we were able to come up with ideas to maintain the fluid audience/performer relationship, because it’s not done a lot – promenade pieces are often by definition inaccessible.

 

T: The time we had to think on the access was key to avoiding that ‘bolt on’ effect; the complexity of the show’s form meant we needed that time, but it also meant that we were never just going to stick a BSL interpreter down-stage left and an audio describer behind the audience. With more limited resources, it’s understandable why these more conservative modes are adopted, though in such cases, access will never feel integral to the performance, and by inference, Deaf and disabled people never integral to the audience.

I learnt a lot about the aesthetics of that integration – how there are times (particularly when conveying information to people with sensory impairments) when the access needs to present what’s happening quite objectively, and how that can sometimes run counter to aesthetic choices around the delivery of the access. i.e. a very creative way of presenting that information may in fact lead to confusion amongst the people accessing it. I found that tension between information and aesthetics really interesting.

You’ve significantly more experience of access than me, but what might you suggest as a learning experience from the week?

 

M: I think just to be creative and open-minded, as you would be when creating all aspects of the work. In the best-case scenario, access solutions are bespoke, so every piece will offer different solutions and opportunities.

 

With thanks to DaDaFest and The Bluecoat for enabling us to undertake this work.

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Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, Bluecoat showcases talent across visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. As the most ...

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