The Little Red Company for All: Six Ways Little Red is Making Art Accessible
Our fabulous Access Consultant Madeleine Little tells us about the importance of accessibility in the arts, and gives us an in-depth rundown on six ways to make the arts accessible for all.
Little Red has provided Auslan Interpreters for its shows for many years, but the 2021 Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols integrated Auslan like never before at Riverstage. Auslan consultant and performer Shannon Kettleton delivered a showstopping, Auslan-only rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas in a truly magical moment.
This is just the start for Auslan in Little Red’s productions. While the company continues to provide Auslan interpreters for its shows – including the recent return season of Skyfall and the upcoming season of Your Song in the Concert Hall at QPAC – Little Red proudly collaborates with Deaf Auslan consultants and respected Auslan interpreters to make sure d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences have the most incredible and accessible night out at the theatre.
Above are two performances featuring Auslan Interpretation at some of Little Red’s shows. On the left is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from the Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols, and on the right is “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” from Rumour Has It.
2. Audio Description
In 2021, a first for the Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols, Little Red provided Audio Description!
Where sighted folk can see the action on stage, Audio Description provides depth and detail to performances for audiences who are blind or who have low vision. A trained Audio Describer will typically attend rehearsals, take extensive notes, and in real-time, describe costumes, sets, pivotal expressions and the action on stage. It’s a fine art in itself, juggling the descriptions required with the timing of any music or dialogue in the show so that those tuning into the Audio Description don’t miss out on anything important.
Audio Describers ensure that audience members who are blind or have low vision are given enough information to understand the look and feel of a performance – and enjoy it the same as sighted audience members do. Shari Indriani Irwin has described Skyfall and Little Red is committed to providing this service and welcoming more people to the theatre.
3. Content Warnings
If you’re a regular theatregoer, then you will be familiar with the content warnings found on the website when you book your tickets, and on signage as you enter the theatre. Typically, content warnings have focused on potentially offensive content such as sexual references or coarse language. But did you know that content warnings have accessibility benefits, too?
Providing warnings about strobe lights, fast paced colour and lighting changes, loud volumes, sudden and sharp noises, audience interaction and more all provide a level of information which assists audience members with sensory sensitivities in deciding which performances to attend. Oftentimes, with sufficient warning, people are able to prepare themselves and ensure they have any assistive technology required to enjoy the performance. Other people may request seating close to the exit if they need to take a break from the stimulation before returning to the theatre.
If you see a long list of content warnings and think, ‘Hmm… that seems like too much information…’, that’s okay! Content warnings are there for those who need them. Not every access provision will suit every person, nor does every person need every access component.
And if you’re worried they might spoil some surprises in the show, don’t be! The magic of a Little Red show remains just as spectacular even with warnings in place.
4. Image Descriptions
You may have seen Little Red’s image descriptions on social media posts and wondered what they are. Image descriptions provide detailed descriptions of the visual content within an image. This includes posters, graphic tiles with quotes or text, general photography, and even gifs!
Image descriptions exist to provide information for blind people and those with low vision so that they too can access the same content as sighted people. Some social media platforms now provide the ‘alt text’ feature, but it’s important to remember that not all screen reader devices or software are compatible with a social media platform’s alt text feature. That’s why you might see accounts like @thelittleredcompany provide an image description alongside an image caption.
This information is incredibly useful in understanding the atmosphere and the tone of a production. The bright pink and yellow of Naomi Price and Lucy Maunder’s Clueless-inspired There’s Something About Music costumes give a fun, bubbly, nostalgic feeling – while Luke Kennedy’s suave tuxedo sets the tone for a classy night at Skyfall. Understanding the tonal difference can help a prospective patron choose which show to attend – though you can’t go wrong with anything Little Red does!
5. Disability Awareness Training
I had the privilege of providing Disability Awareness Training to The Little Red Company’s core staff late last year, and it was a blast!
Together, we learned about the social model of disability and how it impacts our perception of disability. Little Red learned that disability is morally neutral, and it’s the barriers in society which disable people, not our bodies or minds. We discussed appropriate use of language and disability identity and pride.
Little Red wholeheartedly embraced the learning that non-disabled people are best placed to enact change and improve accessibility. The team immediately understood the concept of emotional labour and how society can alleviate that burden by improving accessibility with enthusiasm.
It was in this training session that I saw Little Red immediately step up and commit to welcoming people with disability and/or who are d/Deaf to each and every Little Red production.
6. Allyship in Action
As a disabled artist and arts worker, I had become accustomed to being met with resistance when I shared my access requirements or advocated for access services. The mainstream arts sector has often shut down accessibility by claiming it is ‘too hard’, ‘too expensive’, or ‘we don’t get any disabled audiences attending our shows so it doesn’t really matter’. These attitudes are tiring and dehumanising.
But Little Red believes art is for everyone.
Since the Disability Awareness Training session where Little Red stepped up and understood their potential to be a force for change, they have done so. The team does everything in their power to ensure meetings, rehearsals, events, and performances are as accessible as humanly possible. They consult, they engage meaningfully, they listen, and then they get to work with enthusiasm, kindness, and respect. This work is allyship in action.
The Little Red Company have done so much work already, and they know this is just the start. I cannot wait to see how Little Red continues to evolve and become more and more accessible every year. I am also so very excited to have front row seats to this journey as Little Red sets a standard for inclusion for disabled and d/Deaf audiences (and artists!), improving accessibility and welcoming everyone to participate in the magic that is a Little Red production.