On Sunday 18 December, Parade by Andrew Graham plays at Ghent Opera. The ambition of the partners was to make the mixability in the auditorium at least as great as on stage. But between dream and deed stand laws, and practical objections. We felt it necessary to share these with the city council as well.
. . . . . . . .
As part of the Festival van de Gelijkheid, Opera Ballet Vlaanderen, VIERNULVIER and laGeste have joined forces to bring Andrew Graham's 'Parade' to Ghent, a dance performance featuring 18 performers with visible and invisible disabilities. The realisation of the project, scheduled for Sunday 18 Dec, reveals a number of obstacles and systemic errors that are thought-provoking.
First, the logic would be for the performance to go ahead at De Vooruit, like the majority of the Festival van de Gelijkheid. Until today, however, De Vooruit's stage is not accessible to performers with wheels. Therefore, a nice gesture by OBV diverted the production to the opera on the Kouter. When Andrew Graham explored the options, it turned out that while the stage is accessible to a limited number of wheelchair users, the auditorium only allows for a maximum of four wheelchairs. Graham found this a problem: his performance, with a mixability group of dancers, is in fact trying to cut through all the logistical constraints.
Graham found the technical production manager at the Opera willing to help think about greater wheelchair accessibility. Together, they developed a plan where wheelchair users get through the stage entrance and to the orchestra pit, which then lowers and creates adequate sightlines for all spectators. This plan was cancelled by the fire brigade a fortnight ago: should the electricity fail in the event of a fire, manual lifting of the orchestra pit would take too long for evacuation. A whole range of increasingly less obvious solutions ensued, to arrive at the following conclusion: in addition to the standard four wheelchairs in the auditorium, and the three performers in wheelchairs on stage, four more wheelchair users with attendants are allowed to watch the performance from the stage. They are then in view in the performance and are part of the set of necessity.
Is there really no other way? Should we consider this normal in 2022? Everyone is of good faith, and yet we end up with something no one can truly accept. The fire brigade disapproves of the solution in the orchestra pit, but does not offer any solutions. Can't trained volunteers or civil defence ensure that the orchestra pit evacuation is faster and safe? Can firefighters have a different presence in the building so that spectators can mirror the performers on stage? How do we deal with this accessibility issue in future renovations of work spaces and theatres? How will we make the living arts more inclusive, at every level? Shrugging shoulders is no longer an option.
laGeste | VIERNULVIER | CURIEUS