Heated spotlight on ‘expensive’ and ‘inaccessible’ Theatre 2016 conference

Organisers of the Theatre 2016 conference have apologised following criticism that the event was both physically and financially inaccessible.

An article in Arts Professional by Frances Richens, 18 May, noted that a standard ticket to the two-day conference, billed as “the largest ever industry-wide conference for everyone who cares about the future of theatre in the UK” cost £414.

The conference took place 12-13 May across three theatres in London: the Piccadilly, Lyric and Arts theatres and its organisation raised questions about disabled access facilities in West End theatres.

Head of creative programming at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Andrew Miller, who is a wheelchair user, said: “The Theatre 2016 conference marginalised the very people it sought to empower.” He added the “fundamentally inaccessible” nature of the Piccadilly Theatre meant he had to sit in a box, rather than the stalls, making it difficult to participate in discussions. “If I had chosen to speak (and believe me I had plenty to say), there was no nearby microphone and the session chair wouldn’t have been able to see me anyway,” he told AP. He added he was segregated during lunch and networking events, which took place in inaccessible parts of the theatre.

The director of conference organiser BON Culture, David Brownlee, subsequently issued an apology and promised “that if we were to stage a similar event again we would only do so in venues that are fully accessible”.

He added: “We did allocate staffing to ensure that wheelchair users had access to microphones so they could take part in debates. However we fully accept that some disabled patrons could not take part fully in the networking element of the conference and that the design of the buildings meant that there was a physical divide in some sessions between disabled and non-disabled delegates.”

Brownlee also apologised to those who felt ‘locked out’ by the price: “We’re really sorry that some people felt excluded by the price of the conference. It was an extremely complex and expensive event to put on, despite the help of all the venue owners.”

He insisted the vast majority of people had taken advantage of offers distributed through the conferences partners and sponsors, although he did acknowledge that, even with big discounts, the ticket price would be out of reach of some parts of the sector.

Anger over the cost of tickets was expressed on Twitter, with posts including:

“I’m sure #theatre2016 is generating great discussion but I just can’t shake the frustration of being locked out by the £400 ticket cost.” – @Luke_m_emery

“We would have loved to attend #Theatre2016 but is costs over £400. What a disgrace.”– @HackneyShowroom

Members of the Arts Council England (ACE) and Creative Scotland part funded a number of places.

Brownlee told CN: “We had over 600 delegates. Feedback from the conference has been overwhelmingly positive, but that’s not to say we could do things a lot better in some areas.”

He went on to add that there was greater demand than the organiser could supply, “so if we repeat the event we will do all we can to increase the availability of subsidised places”.

With information courtesy of Arts Professional and image courtesy of Marcus Romer

Paul Colston

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Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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