Guidance on Neurodivergent Theatre Making
As part of our process on All in Good Time, we interrogated the ways our process is informed by our neurodivergence, and explored how we could creatively integrate access into our devising process.
This page contains conversations, reflections and tips based about both our process as neurodivergent theatre makers, and audience access.
For information on the show this resource is based on; click here.
This video is of Zoë and Billie sitting on a sofa, having a conversation about how being neurodivergent informs our process, and ways we make our practice neurodivergent affirming!
Captions are available.
A reflection on the difficulties of being neurodivergent artists: ways venues and programmers could be more accessible.
A key part of this experience was the dissonance between the enthusiasm of programmers and partners at the subject of neurodivergence being explored on stage; and the inaccessibility of the venues and structures we had to navigate. The process of getting a show on requires navigating the following steps:
Applications: In these, the guidance and expectations are often unclear. Forms force you to standardise your ideas into a set format, which doesn't allow for divergence in language processing, writing abilities or ways of explaining. Ways venues and programmers could make this more accessible is by allowing video or audio applications, and providing clear and direct guidance in multiple formats
Interviews: As neurodivergent artists, it can be difficult to be successful in interviews when it is unclear what people are looking for, or when there isn't enough processing time. Ways this could be made more accessible is by questions being sent in advance as standard practice.
Communicating needs to venues: communicating your needs as an individual artist or a group to a venue can be a disheartening process - there are often no clear avenues for this, emails get missed and it creates a lot of extra effort on artists and a lot of uncertainty. This could be made more accessible by venues having a designated access lead, or giving artists access riders as standard.
Tips for working as neurodivergent led team
1) Provide access riders to your collaborators so they can share anything that may be good to know while working with them! This normalises conversations about access, and means all the responsibility isn’t on them to start the conversation!
2) Consider having a designated access lead, whose job it is to…
communicate access requirements to venues and external partners
to advocate for those needs being accommodated
to gather access riders from the team and external partners
produce access information for the audience
to advocate for accessibility during the creative process
3) Speak to experts on accessibility! They will bring new perspectives that compliment your experience and be able to help you with creating an optimum way of working.
4) Remember that if you need it, you can receive funding from Arts Council England to pay someone to provide access support for your application. This can be for scribing your application and inputting it into grantium!
You can also write costs involved in making your work accessible (for example; having an access producer/lead!) into your budget - this doesn’t count towards your total (for example, if it’s an under 30K application, the access funds don’t count towards the limit!)
This video is of Zoë and Billie sitting on a sofa, having a conversation about how we integrated access in All In Good Time, and tips we learnt from that process.
Captions are available.
A reflection: on the neurotypical/neurodivergent gaze
Something we find interesting as neurodivergent theatre makers is how others expect us to relate to, and stage, our own identities. Neurodivergent representation within mainstream theatre is often one-dimensional in its depictions - we can look to the stereotypes upheld in popular plays such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. We can also note the general lack of plays on the subject.
Within more experimental, devised theatre; there have in recent times been some great, autobiographical shows about neurodiversity created from lived experience! But something we discovered is that audiences may expect you to translate your lived experience for the neurotypical gaze.
To make work for neurodivergent audiences is to embrace all of it on stage; to let the pacing, the structuring and the language also be divergent in nature, to put all the bits of it on stage, even if it isn’t palatable. To experiment with staging boredom, chaos, forgetfulness.
This, we found, generates criticism. To invite peoples opinions on what is good pacing, or bad pacing. To uncover what traits people view as negative, to challenge people's perspectives on what theatre is and should be. Through this, we solidified a new company commitment: We will not translate ourselves for the neurotypical gaze.
Ways to make work more accessible to your audience!
Sensory-friendly lights and sound: avoid strobes, loud sudden noises, and flashing lights - come up with other creative ways to create the effect you want!
Social story or visual guide on what to expect: A social story is a tool that can neurodivergent people understand what they can expect from a new experience. A visual guide can be helpful in providing an overview of the theatre space and what to expect during the performance.
Quiet space: This is a designated area where audience members can take a break from the performance if they need to. It can be especially helpful for individuals who are overwhelmed by sensory input and need a quiet space to decompress.
Non-verbal cues: Incorporating more non-verbal cues into performances can help make them more accessible to individuals who struggle with language processing. This can include the use of physical gestures, facial expressions, or other visual cues to convey meaning.
Relaxed performances: These performances are designed to be more flexible and allow audience members to move around, make noise, or leave and re-enter the theatre as needed. They can be especially helpful for individuals who may have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time. You can try creatively integrating your announcement of this into the piece!
Creative Captions: these can add to the world and design of the piece, while also helping those who are Deaf or who struggle with auditory processing to access the piece.
Touch tours and sensory experiences: These can be provided before the performance to help familiarise audience members with the set, costumes, and props. This can be especially helpful for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
Accessible seating: Providing flexible seating arrangements can be helpful for individuals who may need more space or a different type of seating arrangement. Letting audience choose where to sit also gives them more agency to decide how close they want to be!
Providing sensory aids: depending on your piece, you may want to provide earplug or fidget toys to the audience!
Breaks: incorporating an interval or a point where the audience can take a break is really helpful for those who struggle with focus!
Language: make sure you are researching the preferred language that the community uses, and asking if the ideas you are presenting are in line with the ideas of the neurodiversity movement!
We'd love to continue these conversations: you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.