Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Frustrations of being a Disabled Theatre Fan

As you might have read in my recent review of Bat Out Of Hell The Musical (which I've become a little obsessed with), I'm a theatre fan and it's musicals in particular that I love to see. It's something I've gotten from my Mum so I've loved musicals for years but I didn't go to the theatre as a wheelchair user for the first time until February of this year, all my trips before that had been on crutches. Crutches definitely bring their own set of problems when it comes to visiting old theatres, sitting on an uncomfortable seat for hours for example, but as a wheelchair user I've had my eyes opened to just how bad the problem of inaccessibility in theatre is and today I wanted to share a few of those problems!


Lack of seat choice

When you're abled in theory you have the choice of any seat in the theatre (money allowing) but as a wheelchair user, or even just someone with limited mobility, that choice becomes a lot more limited. Some theatres only have one wheelchair space and so far the most amount of wheelchair spaces I've experienced is 3 (at the Dominion Theatre) although I do know of some newer theatres with double that amount. Sometimes I get the choice of what side of the theatre I sit on if there are a couple of wheelchair spaces but most of the time I have no choice in where I sit, it's just wherever the wheelchair space is in the theatre. If you're a manual wheelchair user who can transfer then you'll get a little more choice, but again it's still nowhere near as big as the choice that abled people get. This leads me on to my next point which goes hand in hand with this first problem.


Restricted view

Most of the time wheelchair spaces in theatres are restricted views. If you're in the stalls then quite often the top half of the stage is cut off and if you're in the dress circle, you'll likely have a restricted view of one side of the stage. The worst restricted view I've been quoted so far is that the whole of stage right, 50% of the stage, would be completely obstructed. It's safe to say I didn't buy that ticket. Even if I wanted to pay more for a better view I can't, because of my lack of seat choice. For me it's all about weighing up whether the ticket price balances out the restricted view I'd get. At Bat Out Of Hell for example, a lot of stage left is restricted and I miss a few important parts in the second half but, my ticket only costs £15 so it makes it worth it.


Only being able to attend matinee performances 

Public transport in my hometown isn't great and after about 7pm buses only come once an hour and then they totally finish at about 10pm, which means since I don't drive and can't fit in taxis I can't attend evening performances without staying overnight in London. I find this really frustrating as it limits the dates I can do for shows, especially ones with short runs. Plus the atmosphere tends to be better at evening performances, the energy just to seems to be different and the theatre is usually fuller too which helps. Recently I've been seeing shows when my volunteer charity work takes me to London overnight, which I've really been enjoying and it reminds me of how much I love seeing evening performances.

Not getting to see most of the theatre

I've yet to go to a theatre where I've been able to see more than the foyer, auditorium and the toilet. I've never been to a bar in a theatre and I'm sure I'm not missing much, but it would be nice to experience more of a theatre rather than being taken in through a side door straight to my seat. I saw Everybody's Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre recently and I didn't even get to see the foyer there, I just went straight from outside, down a lift, to my seat. It feels like I miss out on the full theatre experience sometimes, waiting excitedly outside the doors with everyone else and talking to strangers at the bar about their thoughts on the show during the interval.


Weight limits on lifts

At some of the really old theatres where adaptations are difficult to make they often use platform lifts which are sometimes installed as a typical lift would be or like at the Apollo Theatre where it is basically just a giant stair lift, but for wheelchairs. Platform lifts have a much lower weight limit compared to lifts you'd find in shops and this means that they can sometimes be inaccessible for powerchair users in particular. At the Apollo Theatre the weight limit is 300kg which meant I could use it but at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, which is currently home to Wicked, the weight limit on their lift is only 200kg. My powerchair alone weighs 205kg because of all it's electric functions which means I can't use their lift, so I can't see Wicked even if I wanted to. It's frustrating when this happens, really frustrating. I know that most theatres are pretty old but I think there is always a solution to be found when it comes to accessibility, if places are willing to be a little creative and spend the money.

These are just some of the problems I face as a powerchair user but I'd love to hear from other disabled, deaf and visually impaired people about the barriers you face when it comes to going to the theatre!
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