BLOG: A Year of An Agent for Change

The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, is celebrating the first year of the Agent for Change role and reflecting on the work that has been done since Ali Briggs has been in post.

Back in January 2013, the New Wolsey Theatre appointed Ali Briggs as Agent for Change with a remit to create better opportunities for disabled artists and disabled people in the eastern region and to provide a support network for artists and arts organisations.

Access is one of the New Wolsey Theatre’s core principles and in recent years this has been evidenced in a number of collaborations and co-productions with Graeae, programming work by disabled artists and in the provision of participatory opportunities within its Creative Learning offer. This year, the New Wolsey Theatre and Graeae unite again, along with Nottingham Playhouse, Birmingham Rep and West Yorkshire Playhouse to create the anarchic and vibrant production of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

Ali says the following of her first year in post: “I was delighted to be appointed as Agent For Change at NWT in Jan 2013. Here was a theatre that recognised that Deaf and disabled were missing from it and were positive about readdressing this and willing to seek changes in order to include us.

“As a Deaf actor, my passion for theatre is both on stage and as an audience member, so it is great to be part New Wolsey team to create this change together. My home town is Manchester and although I only work one day a week, I now manage to work 1 week every month. It means I get to stay in Ipswich, explore the area and have opportunity to meet with locals and community groups and spread the word.”

The New Wolsey’s first task for 2013 was to improve the range of accessible performances for audiences to include more that are Audio Described, Captioned and British Sign Language Interpreted. They introduced their very first Relaxed performance for the Christmas Pantomime. Alongside this they have improved their marketing and advertising in the current programme and updated the website accordingly.

They have also set up a User Forum which is made up of local Deaf and disabled people who advise them, test out their provision and provide valuable feedback.

Regionally they have created a South East Disability Action Group with Colchester Arts Centre and Robert Pacitti Company to ensure that this important work has an impact across the area.

Ali continues: “It is vital that our programme includes work made by Deaf and disabled companies. So this season we were delighted to bring to Ipswich Fingersmith’s production of Bryony Lavery’s Frozen which is performed in BSL and spoken English. Following on from the success of Reasons To be Cheerful , the New Wolsey and Graeae are combining forces again  to present The Threepenny Opera – which  will have live music  and  include creative combination of BSL interpretation  and captioning live audio description and will be performed  by cast of 18 – 8 of whom are Deaf and disabled actors. Expect a riotous musical comedy you’ll be begging to see!”

The New Wolsey has also started to incorporate accessible performances within its surrounding seasons – PULSE Festival Ipswich and Open Season. The PULSE Festival Ipswich programme will include more information on what shows can be accessed without necessarily having equipment bought in, with each artist/company providing synopses that are on request, and providing details on whether the show is story-led or more visual. The theatre’s annual Open Season provides opportunities for community, youth and amateur groups in the region to showcase their work on the stage and in the studio space, and an introduction to accessible performances will be made to some of the bigger musicals within that season.

As Ali’s work continues, more accessible shows are available to book over the phone on 01473 295900 or by visiting their  new, more accessible website www.wolseytheatre.co.uk, where you can view just the accessible performances, and now live chat with one of their Box Office team.