Summer in the City

Programming

Summer for me tends to mean either working on or recovering from a festival, but I still remember fondly the French summer school holidays – Les Grandes Vacances, a seemingly endless 8-week stretch of perfectly free time. However, Summer in the Suburbs wasn’t exactly action-packed, so I would have been grateful at the time for this Mairie de Paris initiative: the Pass Jeunes (Youth Pass), a bundle of free or heavily discounted cultural offers for anyone aged 15-25 and living, studying or working in Paris.

Amongst the 26 free activities, pass holders can choose from admission to several museums, temporary exhibitions, cinema, music festivals (jazz, world, and classical), heritage buildings and sports activities.

13 further activities are offered with a discount: a visit of the Eiffel Tower and the zoo, a river cruise, a hot air balloon trip and more exhibitions.

As an added incentive, there’s a competition to win a few more cultural/lifestyle activities: more exhibitions, singing and circus lessons and free subscriptions to Vélib, Paris’ shared bike scheme. Each voucher used unlocks a password to input on the Pass Jeune website – so the more offers they access, the more likely users are to win rewards.

Here’s my imaginary summer line-up of Grandes Vacances weekly activities – if only I were a few years younger and living in Paris – for a grand total of €8.5.

 

1. Les années 50 at the Musée de la Mode

Not just any 50s fashion but 50s fashion in France – Givenchy, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, Christian Dior, Jacques Griffe, Pierre Cardin… Here’s a teaser in French with sweeping views of the outfits on display.

 

2. Ballon de Paris

Billed as the biggest in the world, this hot air balloon changes colour to indicate the quality of air, from red for very bad to green for excellent.

Here’s a Go Pro video filmed 2 years ago – according to the comments, the orientation is all wrong, but it’s still a nice view.

There’s also a permanent webcam to see Paris from the sky whenever the balloon is up and flying.

 

3. L’Etat du ciel at the Palais de Tokyo

I try to go to the Palais de Tokyo whenever I’m in Paris, because it’s actually quite small and exhibitions i’ve been to so far felt slow-paced and spacious. I also like the fact that it’s right next to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (which permanent collections are always free to visit).

L’État du ciel – a title borrowed from Victor Hugo’s essay Promontoire du songe, in which the author wrote that “the sky’s normal state is at night” – is “a homage to many artists’, poets’ and philosophers’ reflections on the physical, moral and political factors that shape our world”. Artists include Ed Atkins, Camille Henrot, Steve McQueen, Tony Oursler, Dominique Ghesquière and more, with a focus on performance and time-based art.

 

4. JR au Panthéon

The Panthéon is a 17th-century neoclassical church that has been used as a burial place for eminent French citizens – all men except Marie Curie – since the Revolution. It is currently one of 9 heritage sites hosting a participatory photographic installation by artist JR, whose mobile “Inside Out” photobooth van travelled through France earlier this year to collect photographic portraits.

The Panthéon is undergoing major renovation work, and the commission is a great way to draw attention to the building and its signification in French history, whilst questioning its function as a place of consecration of the great and the good by infiltrating it with 4,000 anonymous portraits.

The video below is in French but shows lots of views of the installation.

 

5. Jeux, Ruses et Hasards at the Forum des Images

3 short films – Zig-Zag, Le Jeu de l’Oie by Raoul Ruiz, Le Coup du Berger by Jacques Rivette and La Boulangère de Monceau by Eric Rohmer, as part of the “Goût du Jeu” thematic retrospective, surveying the notion of play in films. There are many more of the 70+ films that I would like to discover or watch again, but this selection of shorts by 3 great filmmakers seems like a safe bet.

 

6. Marc Ducret – Tower Bridge at the Paris Jazz Festival

Marc Ducret’s Tower Bridge is a project based on “an attempt at transposing in the musical world a short chapter from Vladimir Nabokov’sAda, in which the writer weaves a whole labyrinth made of mirrors, memories and correspondences, eventually building a form which in turn leads to his other books, themes and emotions”  (from the press release). The 12-piece band incorporates two-third of the excellent Trio Journal Intime (Matthias Mahler on trombone and Frédéric Gastard on bass saxophone), so it’s got to be good.

 

7. Pierre Henry: Voyage à travers ma modernité at Paris Quartier d’Eté

A pioneer of musique concrète and precursor of electronic music, Pierre Henry has been artist-in-residence at Paris Quartier d’Eté (an annual eclectic programme of performing arts) for the past 7 years. If I had to choose only one of the 6 concerts presented at the recently renovated Carreau du Temple, it would probably be Symphonie pour un homme seul, a musical collage in 12 movements featuring vocal fragments recorded backwards, accelerated or repeated, whistles, footsteps, doors slamming, metallic sounds and a prepared piano, which he composed with Pierre Schaeffer in 1949-1950.

Here is a film of the choreography of the same name by Maurice Béjart, created in 1955 and based on the Eroïca movement of the “symphony”.

 

8. Avec motifs apparents at the Cent Quatre

Large-scale in situ installations by 5 artists at the Cent Quatre, a new(ish) arts centre opened in 2008 on the site of the former municipal undertaker services.

Artists include Pascale Marthine Tayou, Xavier Juillot,  Jérémy Gobé, Alice Mulliez and Prune Nourry.

Art is Long, and Time is Fleeting

Programming

“I worry about the British public,” said performance artist Marina Abramovic in an interview with the BBC before the opening of her new durational work at the Serpentine Gallery, 512 Hours, adding that the public’s cynicism might get in the way of creating “a pure emotional connection”.

If the feedback cards published online are anything to go by, it seems that the dreaded British public is reacting quite nicely so far:

Better than yoga

Marina participants feedback

Instead, it’s the British press she should have worried about:

 … what I was seeing is what I imagine the open ward of a mental hospital in which the inmates have been heavily sedated must be like.
Richard Dorment, The Telegraph

 It goes without saying that each interaction with the artist will be a unique and subjective experience. You might cry. You might laugh. You might feel bashful. You might feel irritated. But you might do and feel all those things when you see your gynaecologist. This makes neither your gynaecologist a great artist, nor your last smear test a great work of art. — Fisun Güner, The Arts Desk

Abramovic is currently establishing the Marina Abramovic Institute for Long Durational Work in Hudson, New York, which, according to the website, “will be the only institute of its size dedicated to long durational works: works of art that elapse over extreme lengths of time.”

Given the controversy raging over her claim to pioneer the ‘art of nothing’, I thought it’d be worth listing a few actually very long works, so long that they will span across several generations, to set the standards for Marina’s Institute and avoid a further “row over nothing“.

(Turns out I’m not the only one concerned about Marina: some kind souls have set up the Marina Abramovic Retirement Fund of America to help her stop having to make art).

– –

FUTURE VIEWERS

Jonathon Keats & Team Titanic: Century Camera – an intergenerational surveillance program

In May 2014, the Team Titanic gallery distributed 100 pinhole cameras to Berlin residents, to be hidden on the streets and take a 100-long-exposure record of the ups and downs of the city’s build environment. Camera custodians have to ensure that the secret location is passed on from generation to generation, until the camera is returned to the organisers – or whoever will be in charge – in May 2114.

century camera tin pinhole century cam

From the press release:

WORLD’S SLOWEST SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS WILL SPY ON BERLIN FOR NEXT 100 YEARS

The city of Berlin, currently undergoing the biggest real estate boom since German reunification, has been chosen to pilot a global initiative monitoring urban development and decay over the next century. Instigated by experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats in cooperation with the Berlin-based team titanic gallery, the unauthorized surveillance program will use ultra-long-exposure cameras to continuously document 100 years of municipal growth and decay for scrutiny and judgment by future generations.

 This is the latest project by Jonathon Keats, a rather prolific inventor, who previously copyrighted his mind (2003), attempted to genetically engineer God (2004), choreographed a ballet for honeybees (2006), released a mobile phone ringtone based on Cage’s 4’3” titled “My Cage (Silence for Cellphone)” (2007) and created “The Longest Story Ever”  (2009) for the cover of a magazine – only 9 words in length but printed to appear at a rate of one per century.

The ‘century camera’ is adapted from the traditional pinhole camera, using black card stock instead of photographic paper to considerably slow down the exposure process. The project is meant to be intergenerational and participatory, and going low-tech is a way to withstand the test of time: the simpler the technology, the more likely it will be usable in the future, whatever the circumstances (this brings to mind the ill-fated floppy disk and VHS tape). The pinhole cameras will act as visual time capsules, capturing timelapse records of the changing cityscape for future generations, but perhaps also influencing planning decisions by placing on the streets a watchful eye that never sleeps.

The process of returning the cameras in 100 years brings up a whole lot of questions: whilst the artist will most certainly be dead, will the gallery still exist? How will any change be communicated to the camera-keepers of the next century? Will the value of the €10 deposit dramatically increase or decrease? Will the euro actually still exist?

Team Titanic
Jonathon Keats
(Twitter)

 

FUTURE READERS

Katie Paterson & Situations: Future Library

Another 100-year long project that has just been launched a few days ago, Future Library is both growing a forest and commissioning writers, to create a completely new body of work – physical and immaterial – for future readers.

It’s produced by Situations, the Bristol-based cultural producers who published a few months ago The New Rules of Public Art, a manifesto challenging what public art looks and feels like.

Adapted from the press release:

Scottish artist Katie Paterson has launched a 100-year artwork – Future Library – Framtidsbiblioteket – for the city of Oslo in Norway.

A thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.

The texts will be held in a specially designed room in the New Public Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

One author a year will be selected by Katie Paterson and the Future Library Trust, with the first to be announced in September 2014.

Future Library is part of Slow Space, a wider programme of public art projects, events & publications produced by Situations in Bjørvika, Oslo’s former container port, over the next four years.

Situations
Future Library
Slow Space

 

FUTURE LISTENERS

Jem Finer & Artangel: Longplayer, a one-thousand year composition

1,000-second timelapse video of first performance of Longplayer Live at Roundhouse, 2009

Jem Finer is an artist and composer with an interest in “deep time and space, self-organising systems and long-durational processes” (and also, for a bit of pop trivia, one of the founding members of The Pogues).

Between 1995 and 1999, with the support of producers Artangel, he developed and composed Longplayer, a continuously playing and ever-changing score written to last 1,000 years. Longplayer started on 1st January 2000 and can be heard in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, at other listening posts (currently in London and San Francisco) and online via a live stream.

Longplayer was conceived by the artist as an exploration of time, “as it is experienced and as it is understood from the perspectives of philosophy, physics and cosmology”. It is based on a 20’20” score for Tibetan Singing Bowls, the ‘source music’, and five transpositions that vary in pitch and duration and are combined in always unique ways, for exactly 1,000 years. For now, this process is computerised, but other methods are considered – mechanical, human – to ensure that the work will survive technological obsolescence.

Ensuring preservation is an integral part of the work, and the Longplayer Trust has been set up “to make the music available to as wide an audience as possible and to research and implement sustainable platforms for Longplayer’s future”.

Jem Finer
Longplayer
Artangel

High Street Art

Programming

I’ve managed to clock two conferences in two days, both about the future of the arts (and arts funding), but otherwise different in every possible way.

On Thursday 5 June, Owning the Arts: Making Things Happen, organised by Rowan Arts as part of the Holloway Road Festival, aimed at “artists, arts managers, producers, educators and community activists”, was all about creative and collective problem-solving. The following day, Arts Development UK’s national seminar on The Value of Public Commissioning gathered arts and cultural organisations engaged in community building, well-being and regeneration together with public service commissioners for a day of keynote speeches and case studies presentations to discuss evidence, outcomes and evaluation.

I’m probably going to blog for quite a while about all the people I met, projects I’ve discovered,  and things I’ve agreed and disagreed with, just in the space of these two days, but to start with I wanted to highlight two great projects taking art to the high street – by taking over retail spaces and codes – that were presented at each conference. I’m also throwing in a personal favourite for good measure, to follow my preferred tripartite format. As I haven’t – yet – fully experienced these projects myself, I’ll let them speak for themselves in their own words, photos and videos.

1. Fully dysfunctioning: Hunt & Darton Café

A nice treat at Owning the Arts: participants didn’t just get to hear about the concept of live art duo Jennifer Hunt and Holly Darton’s project. We first got into teams to compete in the Not Great British Bake-Off, a sugar sandwich competition, to get a taste of the Hunt and Darton Café’s live experience, before getting into details of the project background and history.

Here’s what they say themselves about it:

Hunt & Darton Cafe is the product of Hunt & Darton, artist led producers creating theatrical experiences in unconventional spaces. Audience experience is our priority.

A fully functioning Café that blends art with the everyday, Hunt & Darton Cafe is a social and artistic hub where spontaneity and performance meet great food and drink.

Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton expose the inner workings of their business by presenting everything as art-from public display of their bank balance to the lovingly handpicked charity shop crockery.

Hunt & Darton Cafe encourages playful participation and meaningful social encounters. It can operate as an offsite micro-venue or temporarily transform and existing space in a gallery, theatre, public building or outdoors under canvas. Whether seeking surprising art or a relaxing place to spend the afternoon, customers can expect a welcoming atmosphere and food served with a twist. This is an exciting, innovative and entrepreneurial project unveiling and celebrating the ‘Cafe’ as an iconic and socially important hub for creative productivity and conversation.

The Cafe takes over empty shops, often working with council initiatives and art centres to benefit and increase artistic activity within the area. The alternative service from Hunt & Darton themselves (often wearing their iconic pineapple outfits and hats) comprises deadpan style and theme days such as ‘you-do-it-day’ where customers are encouraged to serve each other. Hunt & Darton also commission local artists to wait on the tables and create unique performances as they serve. (…)

Hunt and Darton Café, Hackney, 2013

Hunt and Darton Café, Hackney, 2013

The café started in Cambridge in April 2012, travelled to Hackney, Edinburgh and Brighton, and is about to embark on a 5-city tour over the next 18 months. Here’s where and when to catch it:

Colchester – Oct 2014
Folkestone  – Feb 2015
Manchester – March 2015
Harlow – June 2015
Peterborough – Oct 2015

 

2. Social & Emotional Transactions: Encounters Shop

Ruth Ben-Tovim presented her work with Encounters Arts in a Cultural Commissioning session on place-based outcomes. It’s an art based on co-production, dialogue and long-term relationships – and for Ruth, the essential part of her work is to craft the invitation.

From the website

Since 2003 Encounters have been taking up residence in disused Shops across the UK, working with thousands of people to create evolving, co-authored artworks about the joys and challenges of everyday life.

Shops have taken place in Sheffield, Winchester, Liverpool, Dewsbury, Totnes and London. We also deliver Mobile Shop projects that tour and connect different locations within a neighbourhood.

Encounters Shops become meeting places in which local communities can collect and exchange experiences, memories, objects, journeys and thoughts about their lives, where they live and the wider world.

We use photography, visual art and text to collect personal material from visitors reflecting this back through the creation of interactive, evolving displays and verbatim performance events and publications. Talks, workshops, community visioning, feasts, inter-generational exchanges and cross-cultural dialogue processes can also take place in the Shops.

As well as using a selection of these favourites in each new Shop we set up, we tailor-make Invitations to Join In that respond to the place, context or commissioners focus.

Over the years, Encounters have developed a tried and tested series of participatory Invitations to Join In that you are likely to find in any of our shops including; Blackboard Questions, Memory and Story Maps, Recipe Cards, Stepping Stones, Lake of Tears, Tell Me a Story About, Seeds of Change, Family Portraits, Journeys, Collage Blocks, Anyone Who’s, and Lost and Found.

Where’s the heart of Andover? Inside the Encounters Shop.

Inside the Encounters Shop – photo (c) Paul Bevan Photography

The 10th Encounters Shop is currently in Andover, Hampshire, until 15th June.

 

3. Heart-felt nostalgia: The Cornershop

Felt artist Lucy Sparrow crowdsourced over £10,000 – from an initial £2,000 bid – for her Cornershop project, and she is now creating enormous amounts of felt-replicas of everyday objects that will go on the shelves of her pop-up Cornershop.

From the Kickstarter campaign:

In 2014 I, Lucy Sparrow, will be restocking an abandoned Cornershop in London with felt products. Each item – from the bean cans, to the cigarette packets, the chewing gum and the porn mags – will be made entirely out of felt: each item meticulously hand sewn, stuffed and priced by yours-truly. During the month-long installation The Cornershop will be visited by both local passers-by and art audiences, once inside the shop they can not only view the products, but can handle, and even buy them. They will also be able to watch live-sewing events, participate in workshops and can even be drawn into improvised performance works that make them reflect on our taken-for granted shopping behaviours. The installation will be accompanied by a series of making workshops. In addition to drop-in workshops for one and all, I will also offer more specialist workshops for the local community and the neurologically diverse communities.

Weetabix

Weetabix -work in progress

Tampax

Over the counter emergencies

Rizla

A cross-section of rolling papers

Cat food

Cat food (supermeat)

Lucy’s ambition is to create in felt every single item usually found in a cornershop, in the right proportions: here’s the full list of everything that needs to be made. The shop’s opening is currently planned for August 2014 in Bethnal Green, and Lucy’s progress can be followed on her blog, website, Instagram and Twitter.

The Art of Disruption

Programming

How to present what you do, as a freelancer/contractor? How to be both descriptive enough to be credible, yet keep the door open to new collaborations? As François Matarasso puts it: “In this neoliberal world, where people are commoditised, a freelancer must be ready to stand in the shop window, if not the auction block, in his best clothes. We’ve all got an elevator pitch now.”

In a perhaps misguided attempt to cover all grounds, I’m currently using ‘Events Manager, Audience Developer and Translator’ on my business card. My ‘services’ page also lists Programme Management & Coordination, Research and Copywriting. I could go on – but I’m not sure that adding more specialities would make my achievements and skills look any better. In fact, such an enumeration is not even reflecting what I do overall.

That’s why I’m using ‘Cultural Producer’ on my ‘about’ page and on LinkedIn: because it’s not just describing the different parts of the process, but how they’re all converging.

Jeremy Deller, Procession (Manchester International Festival, 2009) via BBC Manchester website

Jeremy Deller, Procession (Manchester International Festival, 2009) via BBC Manchester website

I like this definition, used by someone called Gina Tarantino in her Penn State University blog:

A creative cultural producer is a professional that plans, designs, organizes and manages artistic projects that have a cultural impact on the public that will interact with them.

Play Me I'm Yours, 2012, Toronto (Mexico piano, University & Dundas)

Play Me I’m Yours, Mexico piano (Toronto, Canada 2012)

And even more this one, developed by London-based creative company Nimble Fish to describe their own practice, which they felt was not accurately reflected by the categories “Theatre” or “Theatre-in-Education”:

Cultural Producers establish, implement and manage a self-generated creative vision, typically outside the purview of traditional performance or gallery spaces. Cultural Producers are rarely restricted to a single artistic form, preferring instead to work with whatever combination of forms best suits a particular idea or theme. Cultural Producers often seek to animate or re-interpret public spaces in the context of the communities they serve, and consequently their work often has a strong component of community participation or co-creation.

City-wide flood simulation produced by La Folie Kilomètre and pOlau

Jour Inondable, city-wide flood simulation produced by La Folie Kilomètre and pOlau (Tours, France , 2012)

Arts Council England and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation commissioned a 2007 publication titled “The Producers: Alchemists of the Impossible” to “celebrate and explore the role of the producer in the arts” through 14 portraits of creative individuals.

One of the featured producers is Helen Marriage, co-founder of Artichoke, “a creative company that works with artists to invade our public spaces and put on extraordinary and ambitious events that live in the memory forever”. Artichoke will probably forever be known for the Sultan’s Elephant (see below), but they’ve also created, more recently, the city-wide night-time Lumière events in Durham and Derry-Londonderry, the giant spider in Liverpool and One & Other, Anthony Gormley’s Fourth Plinth Commission project.

Durham Cathedral, Lumière Festival Durham, produced by Artichoke (2009)

Durham Cathedral, Lumière Festival Durham, produced by Artichoke (Durham, UK, 2009)

In 2012-2013, Helen Marriage was awarded a Loeb Fellowship by Harvard Graduate School of Design, to “study the intersection of design, public art and urban infrastructure”. She has since embarked on a series of talks and seminars on the topic of cultural disruption and ephemeral urbanism, and her recent presentation at the Ramsay Gardens Seminar series is summarised on International Futures Forum’s website.

She retraces the 5-year journey to get permission to close streets in London and stage a huge peripatetic performance, recalling the shifting point that made it all possible and the self-discovery that ensued:

For the first three years the answer was always no. But in the end the mood shifted:  from “why would we do this?” (a plea for justification, outcomes, evidence) to “why would we not do this?” (an enrolment in playing a part in producing something magical).  Helen’s message – “it will be fantastic and you will be really proud” – finally struck home.

In retrospect, she realised that she herself had been the problem. She had been asking an impossible question – in asking for permission. They could not possibly say yes. But once it got into the minutes that the event was scheduled to happen, everyone assumed that somebody else had given authority and from then on their role was to help.  It was a valuable lesson and one that she now follows always: her job is to take responsibility, to be the bearer of risk for everyone involved, which frees them up to be as helpful and creative as they can without formally ‘owning’ the project themselves.

Artichoke: Sultan's Elephant (London, 2006)

Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke & Royal de Luxe (London, UK, 2006)

Reviewing The Producers for a-n , Charlotte Frost surveyed a number of established cultural production agencies (listed below). Despite clear differences, such as the diversity of organisational structures, she finds them to share three key functions:

  1. Matchmaking collaborative relationships: combining artists and artforms, often assembling a custom back-end team, and bringing together projects and venues, funders and other supporters.
  2. Providing the necessary time and space: directly by providing physical space (Artsadmin) or virtual platforms (Furtherfield.org), and also through committing to the long-term durational process (Artangel).
  3. Being the “risk absorber” (Steven Bode, Director of FVU): “Every project starts from square-one in terms of the producer having to find creative partners, a venue and, usually, funders” (Electra Co-Founder and Director Lina Dzuverovic); “Its very important that all of us, Artsadmin, Artangel, Forma, and everyone else… keep encouraging new work to happen, if we don’t, everything will get very stagnant. That is, what is inspiring and compelling for us, and it is something that I would reiterate to Arts Council England, this experimental work influences the mainstream and feeds everything else.” (Judith Knight, Co-Founder and Director of Artsadmin).
Floating Cinema, Up Projects (London, 2013)

Floating Cinema, Up Projects (London, 2013)

The video below shows the LIFT Festival production of Haircuts by Children, an “aesthetically scintillating experience”  developed by Toronto-based culture production workshop Mammalian Diving Reflex that has already been re-created in 30 cities.  Artistic Director Darren O’Donnell explains:

Haircuts by Children involves children between the ages of 8-12 are trained by professional hairstylists, and then paid to run a real hair salon, offering members of the public free haircuts. The project invites the consideration of young people as creative and competent individuals whose aesthetic choices can be trusted. While providing atypical entertainment for the public, Haircuts by Children also shifts the traditional power dynamic between children and adults, creating a safe social space where children and adults who live in the same community can meet and share a unique creative experience together. The idea that kids should be allowed to cut our hair evokes the same leap of faith, courage and understanding required to grant children deeper citizenship rights. For many it is actually less terrifying to contemplate allowing kids to vote.

Links:

UK

artangel.org.uk
artichoke.uk.com
artsadmin.co.uk
electra-productions.com
forma.org.uk
furtherfield.org
nimble-fish.co.uk
upprojects.com

CANADA

www.mammalian.ca

FRANCE

www.lafoliekilometre.org
www.polau.org

The Relaxed Performance Project: theatre for all

Programming

In 2011, a “Wicked Discrimination” story was widely reported in the UK media: an autistic 12-year-old boy was accused of causing a “disturbance” during a performance of the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, a West End London theatre. The family were “offered the chance to watch the show from behind a glass partition or squatting on a flight of stairs and watching through the banisters.” Complaints were not coming from other audience members; instead, staff mentioned a “precious sound engineer”. The family finally left the theatre, cutting short an experience that their son had been “hugely enjoying”.

Following this incident, the ATG theatre group – the largest in the UK – reportedly reviewed its staff training with the help of user-led arts organisation Shape. Its access policy – rather detailed but unfortunately buried deep into the website, nowhere near the homepage – states that they have a dedicated “Access Champion” in all of the group’s 39 venues, who offer orientation visits and other bespoke services, such as seat service during the interval; and one of their London theatre also took part in the recent Relaxed Performance project.

What are “Relaxed Performances”?

Relaxed Performances are creative, safe and inspiring public theatre performances for children with special needs, including Autistic Spectrum Conditions and/or learning disabilities and, crucially, their families. Performances are specially designed to give those who otherwise might feel excluded the chance to experience live theatre.

Led by a partnership between The Prince’s Foundation for Children & the Arts, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and Theatrical Management Association (now UK Theatre), the Relaxed Performance Project pilot scheme ran between November 2012 and June 2013 and presented 8 Relaxed Performances in theatres across the UK, with a conference held in September 2013 to share best practice with the theatre sector.

The full executive summary is available on the Include Arts website, alongside an evaluation report and case studies; here are the key points taken from the report.

Who took part?

• The pilot project engaged just short of 5,000 audience members (adults and children), with an average audience size of 622.

• Of these, 60% reported they had never been to the theatre before as a family, 30% had never been to the theatre at all, and 90% had never been to a Relaxed Performance.

How does it work?

• A visual guide was compiled and posted to each family prior to the performance.

Autism-specific training was delivered to 300 staff of all partner venues.

• Advice was given on how to engage with potential audience members or how audiences were found.

• A press consultant worked with theatres to promote the performances in local and national press.

• Every participating theatre adjusted light and sound levels during the performance to suit the needs of the audience.

Designated ‘chill-out’ areas were prepared for audience members to use should being in the auditorium become overwhelming. These lessen stress, subsequently promoting feelings of ‘relief’ and ‘acceptance’ amongst individual family members.

Most theatres also offered a reduced ticket price for these performances.

What happens next?

One of the plays presented as a Relaxed Performance was The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, modified for people with autism, learning disabilities and sensory or communication needs.

Mark Haddon, who wrote the novel on which the play is based, said in the Guardian he was delighted by the special performances. “It is important to emphasise that this is about inclusivity, not targeting. These performances are for anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including people with an autistic spectrum condition, sensory or communication disorders, or a learning disability.”

In the same article, Jeremy Newton, chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, said the plan was to make such performances part of the mainstream: “We’re hoping to start an attitudinal shift within theatres to a point in a year or two where the printed programme will say, ‘Tuesday night, signed performance for the hard of hearing; Wednesday night, relaxed performance for families with children on the autistic spectrum’.”

Finally, here are 10 Tips for putting on a Relaxed Performance:

1. Choice of Production:

Think about it! Is a pantomime the best choice? They can be considered to be challenging due to noise, lights and the uncertainty. Well-known shows might well sell better as they already have more profile.

2. Scheduling:

Work out with your local audience when the best time for them would be to come to a show.

3. Funding:

Can you fund the discounted tickets yourself? Will you have enough budget for marketing the show. On the day you will need extra people front of house.

4. Marketing & Press:

Building audiences for Relaxed Performances takes time. ‘Word of mouth’ and personal recommendation’ and building a personal relationship between a staff member and local groups proved a more effective means of marketing the programme than advertising. Several theatre staff reported that marketing through their ‘traditional routes’ was not effective in this instance. Press worked wonders.

5. Partnerships:

In order to build an audience for a Relaxed Performance it is imperative that you speak to community groups, schools and individuals and listen to their needs and work with them.

6. Advocacy:

Whilst this will take time, it will be worth it in the long run as it will build your community relationships and work as a good advocate for your theatre.

7. Preparation & Information:

Is absolutely key. If audiences know what to expect, there is less for them to worry about. It is difficult enough getting to the theatre so clear and comprehensive information is imperative – “The visual guide was  absolutely fantastic … the reassurance about the story line was really helpful in preparing us for the shock of it”.

8. Training & Understanding:

Take time to understand what a family might have to encounter day-to-day to understand how important this is and train your staff as it will pay dividends. “We trained the cast and front of house staff for today and with autism awareness training. They all felt incredibly honoured and really thrilled to be doing something special.”

9. Environment:

Make people feel comfortable and secure. “Having the relaxation room for the interval was really brilliant … he needed to blow out and I didn’t need to stress about him being too loud or being too fidgety in the show”.

10. Future:

“We would totally come again”. Build on your success. All theatre partners in the project have programmed a further relaxed performance.