Without Walls TALKS: Access vs The Environment by Daryl Beeton
2 November 2022
Exploring the compromise between access and sustainability in Outdoor Arts
Daryl & Co is a Disabled-led children’s theatre company that aims to make theatre accessible to young audiences and their families. Their vision is to create a world where Disabled artists and young people have unrestricted choices to creative experiences and careers.
Mimbre is a female-led producing company that creates acrobatic theatre for outdoor and unusual settings. Their work aims to pull down barriers to reach beyond social, financial, and cultural boundaries and facilitate everyone’s place within the arts. Their work promotes a positive, diverse, and inclusive image of cis and trans women as well as non-binary people.
Without Walls supported Daryl & Co and Mimbre with their R&D phase via Blueprint, Creation and Touring and an environmental bursary.
Access and inclusion is at the heart of everything we do here at Daryl & Co and our co-production with Mimbre, Look Mum, No Hands! was no exception.
From the start we included a high level of access costs: pre-rehearsal training, understudy roles and role shares, accessible rehearsal spaces, designed accessible audience seating, access workers, easy read synopses and audio introductions.
Then we thought about how this approach to access and inclusion would impact touring the show in an environmentally sustainable way… and that’s when access requirements and environmental sustainability clashed!
This clash has been a topic of discussion for many years:
“Research published in 2021 by RiDC (Research Institute for Disabled Consumers) found that while 97% of disabled people are concerned about the environment, they experience barriers to making sustainable choices when it comes to transport, shopping, recycling and energy use.”
A classic example is the ban on single use plastic straws. Many Disabled people rely on these straws to consume food and drink as well as to join in with social activities. Without these plastic straws their access requirements are not met… Alternatives exist, but miss one or more of the accessible attributes of plastic straws. The Disabled community understands the reasons for this, however the binary approach forces Disabled people to look like they are on the wrong side of environmental issues.
So which needs to come first? Access or the environment?
Our approach on Look Mum, No Hands! was to find compromises to achieve both. It is possible for accessibility and environmental sustainability to work together, but as with access, a budget to alleviate environmental impact is something that you need to from the start.
This wasn’t something that we carried out this year. However, we were lucky enough to be awarded a Without Walls Environmental Bursary. This supports us in exploring and implementing ways of addressing these challenges, allowing additional time for the team to research, implement and evaluate our environmental practices. It also contributed funds towards the cost difference for recycled/recyclable set-design and paid for some carbon offset costs.
So what were the challenges we faced and what did we do?
Our performers who are wheelchair users need to drive for access reasons. Many festivals’ first response when hearing this was: “Can your performers get the train instead of a car to reduce our festival’s carbon footprint?”
If only it was that simple; public transport is not accessible or Disabled user friendly.
We also approached sourcing of materials in different ways to reduce our transport emissions:
- Working with smaller, ideally local, makers/producers
- Sourcing materials close to their place of manufacture
- Sourcing materials using recycled material
- Consolidating shipping/transport
“One in four Disabled people say negative attitudes from other passengers prevent them from using public transport, while 40% often experience issues or difficulties when traveling by train in the UK, a study from disability equality charity, Scope, has found.”
To offset the use of an additional car we undertook research into ‘green vans’ (electric or hybrid), but the cost difference to a standard van was considerable. The only affordable option was to pay a fee to offset our environmental impact. However, it will not stop us from exploring how to keep reducing our carbon footprint in other ways.
The audience experience was a key factor in the overall access and design of the piece, therefore we toured with our own seating which provided options for audience members with mobility impairments. This meant Disabled audience members could watch the show from anywhere on beanbags, chairs and benches, rather than just an ‘accessible viewing area’.
Upon researching seating options, we became aware that the designs using recycled and/or recyclable materials would put us over budget considerably. Our budget would allow for either 10 non-recyclable benches made from non-recycled materials, or five environmentally sustainable benches – another compromise between access and the environment.
We anticipated the show would have a long ‘shelf life’ so opted for fewer items made from recycled material or could be recycled in the future, knowing we could increase the seating in years two or three if required.
We also created pre-production and post-production ‘disposal’ (aftercare) documents which enabled us to extend the lifespan of the design elements or had an ethical way of disposing of them if needed.
What we learned during the Look Mum, No Hands! tour was that both Access and Environmental issues need the same approach: time, budget and planning from the start of a project. With both we may not be able to do everything we want to in the first go, but we took steps in the right direction to ensure one didn’t exclude the other.
Have a look at our ‘top tips’ on Sustainable Approaches to Design and Making for the Outdoor Arts and our Disposal Document to see how we approached it.
If you want to dive deeper into some of the issues, then here are some great articles:
Look Mum, No Hands! by Daryl & Co and Mimbre © Rachel Hardwick
Look Mum, No Hands! by Daryl & Co and Mimbre at SIRF 2022 © Stockton Borough Council