Researchers examining how to make performing arts more accessible in Edmonton

WATCH: The performing arts scene in Edmonton is vibrant but it's not accessible to everyone. A local group is hoping to change that. Morgan Black gives us a peek behind the curtain to show us how.

How can we make Edmonton’s performing arts scene something everyone can enjoy?

That’s the question researchers are hoping to answer through an online survey that will allow participants to list various barriers that stop them from coming out to an event.

The team is asking for first-hand accounts so that the data directly reflects Edmontonians’ experiences.


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“We could just decide what needs to be accessible, but now we can know what people actually need,” explained Brooke Leifso, who is part of the Ad Hoc Performing Arts Consortium.

“The fact that Edmonton is even having this discussing is putting in a space to change and grow.”

The list includes accessible spaces, prices, or simply knowing if you’re allowed to leave during a performance.

Leifso, along with the other researchers, experiences disability and/or marginalization in the community. She noted the survey’s list is broad because the needs are too.

“Even seniors who use hearing aids may not know that Fringe Theatre or Walterdale has a t-coil,” which is a small copper coil in a hearing aid that functions as a wireless antenna. “It’s a click on your hearing aid and it amplifies the sound in the room.”


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Alison Neuman is a dancer, choreographer and a patron of the arts. She also uses a wheelchair.

“I have been in spaces where I’ve been told what I need for it to be accessible and what I need is not always what everybody else needs,” Neuman said.

“Sometimes it’s physical, like a ramp, or situational, like when I go to a venue.”

She has friend that won’t head out to a play because of the extreme efforts required.

“For example, if you are taking DATS, you have a booking window and you need to be there early. If the venue is not open, it’s policy that they can’t leave you at the venue, so they have to take you back home. Coordinating our care with a performance time is also a challenge.”

Neuman, who dreamed of going to Broadway as a child, said the survey’s efforts could have a major impact on her biggest passion.

“With my disability I get a lot of attention and it’s not good attention. I feel like I have been silenced or not listened to.

“But, when I’m on the stage or I’m writing something for a performer to say, the attention is wanted,” Neuman said.

The Citadel Theatre is one of a number of performing arts spaces that’s eager to learn what patrons and performers are looking for.

“About a year ago, there was a group of performing arts organizations that wanted to get together and share knowledge about how to make their work as accessible as possible,” Jessie van Rijn, a producer at the Citadel Theatre and lead from the Ad Hoc Performing Arts Consortium. “We realized there were different groups wanting to do the same kind of work.”

But before changes happened, they wanted the input of the community it would directly affect.

“Everyone is very willing to admit that the work they do, and sometimes the spaces they work, are not as accessible as they could be. There was a large group in the community that didn’t feel welcome or safe in those spaces,” explained van Rijn.


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At the Citadel Theatre, the work has already begun. In January 2020, it will be producing Cost of Living, which stars an actor who uses a manual wheelchair.

“We wanted to make sure the backstage space was as accessible as possible. The washroom was too small. The shower stall was too small. The sinks had U-pipes that would get in the way. The mirrors are too high. There were so many different reasons,” said van Rijn.

“ we were able to fund a renovation. Now folks in the future will be able to use it too.”

The researchers will be creating a report with recommendations to see where funds can best be allocated within Edmonton.

The survey deadline is Dec. 20. Arts patrons can complete this survey and performing arts producers and companies are invited to complete this survey. You are also invited to join the focus group.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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