By Kelsie Acton
May 17th feels like a very particular moment. Theatres open. Pubs open.
There’s a lot of joy in this. I love theatre. I want it to come back.
I can’t deny that this year has been difficult, but in some ways, it’s also been the easiest year of my life.
I’m neurodivergent and one of the ways that shows up is that I’m sound sensitive. That pub, that restaurant, the theatre lobby buzzing with voices excitedly overlapping is a lot. It looks like fun until I’m in the middle of it and I can’t understand anything anyone says, and my head is pounding in pain and I’m exhausted with the effort of focusing through the wall of noise.
Pandemic world has been very kind to my brain. People can only speak one at a time over zoom. Turns out, understanding everything everyone says is pretty great. I can turn the volume down on digital theatre if it gets too loud. And even better, I can watch theatre in my pyjamas, without having to endure the screeching of the Tube to see it. Theatre without the complicated calculation of how much energy and pain it will cost me to see it is also pretty great. Not having pain and exhaustion be a daily part of my life has been strange and incredible.
I miss people. I miss watching theatre in rooms with people.
And I don’t miss being tired and in pain.
So this particular day, May 17th, when people excitedly rush back to noisy spaces is a complicated one for me.
I think what I want you to take from this moment when a little of the old the world returns, and old forms of inaccessibility reassert themselves, is:
That meeting in a coffee shop can probably be a zoom call. (The next time you’re in a coffee shop I invite you to take a good listen to the espresso machine. Why are they so noisy? And then why add to that noise by playing background music?)
Relaxed and sensory adaptive performances are things you should be doing. More than once in your run. In fact, why not all relaxed all the time?
Digital is something you should keep doing.
Press night, pubs, and parties shouldn’t be the only way to network and build a career.
If you’re a venue you need a chill out space. A good one, designed by someone disabled, because a chair in the corner of the lobby with a sign above saying ’chill out space’ does not actually do anything aside from tick a box.
That there’s not one way that theatre happens. We’ve all been doing, watching, listening to theatre as it reinvents itself for the last year. So, ‘that’s the way we do it’ can no longer be a reason to keep being inaccessible.
And I’d like you to remember that just like we all had different experiences of lockdown, we’re all going to have different experiences of easing out of lockdown. We’re gaining something, but I’m also losing something. And I know I’m not alone in that. Let’s be curious and kind and gentle with each other as the world changes again.