RSC logoHello, dear readers. Samantha guest blogging once again, to bring you

Another Tale of Accessibility Ping Pong: A Blog in Three Acts.

PROLOGUE

A while ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced that David Tennant would be appearing in Richard II as part of their Winter 2013 season, iniitally at Stratford-Upon-Avon, then transferring to the Barbican in London. Being a fan of theatre, Shakespeare and Tennant, this was music to my ears. I had also heard very good things about the RSC’s accessibility stuff.

Alas, this was not to be, at least, not initially.

But, forsooth, for this tale doth have a happy ending.

ACT ONE
At the start of  February, I emailed the RSC to enquire about audio described performances, touch tours, and disabled/carer discounts. I received a reply on 8th February:

Good afternoon,

There will be 2 audio described performance of Richard 11. One on 6th November 2013 at 7.30 pm and the other on 16th November at 1.30 pm.  Tickets will cost £16 both for the person with visual problems and their carer.  Touch tours are arranged around those dates, so there will be a ‘Touch tour’ at 11.30 am on 16th November and at 5.30 pm on  6th November.

To book tickets please ring the box office on the number below.

Many thanks.

As this didn’t make it clear whether these details were for London or Stratford, I emailed again:

Hi. Thanks for the information. Are the details below for the Stratford venue? Are there any plans for audio description and touch tours at the London venue?
Thanks

and got this reply:

good afternoon,

the information below is for Stratford on Avon.  We do not have any information about London at the moment.  This information should be available to you from 7th March, so please get back to us at that time.

Hope this is helpful, very many thanks.

I made a note to check again in March, but recieved another email from the RSC, on 15th February:

Dear Samantha,
Please see below information about access performances for Richard II for both Stratford-upon-Avon and London.

Stratford-upon-Avon
The Audio Described performance of 020 7638 8891in Stratford-upon-Avon takes place on Saturday 16 November at 1.30pm, the free touch tour will take place at 11.30am. Tickets for people with disabilities cost £16 in all our theatres – whenever you visit or wherever you choose to sit. If you require the services of a companion their ticket will also be £16. To book call our Box Office on 0844 800 1114, public booking opens on Monday 18 March.

London
The Audio Described performance of Richard II in London takes place on Saturday 18 January at 2pm, the free touch tour will take place at 12-12.30pm. A limited number of access seats are available per performance. These discounted tickets can only be booked through the Barbican Theatre Box Office. Terms and conditions apply. The Barbican Box Office number is 020 7638 8891.

If you have any further questions or we can be of any help please let us know.
Best Wishes

So it seemed the performance on Nov 6 had ceased to exist. Strange, but *shrugs*.

ACT TWO
Now, from previous productions featuring David Tennant as the lead, I realised that tickets were going to go very quickly.

Tickets go on sale to the public on 18th March 2013, but went on sale to RSC members earlier. Full members could book for the London run from 7th March, Associate Members, from the 8th March. Full membership costs £40 per year, with associate membership costing a reasonable £18.

So I decided it might be a good idea to join, as an associate member. However, I was worried that they might not sell accessible seats in advance, and didn’t want to waste my money. So on Wednesday 6th March, I called the Barbican, as directed in the above email.

They told me that they were indeed handling access bookings, but that they were only handling public booking, not members’ booking, and if I wanted to get accessible tickets via priority booking, I needed to call the RSC. Obviously, this was in conflict to the information I was given by email that said ONLY the Barbican were handling access bookings, but regular readers will know I’m nothing if not persistent!

So on Thursday 7th March, I phoned the RSC. Initially, I was told that only the Barbican could do access bookings, but when I explained I wanted to become a member, they decided they could book access tickets after all.

I was told that tickets for the London shows would be £27.50. The email I had recieved had specified that accessible tickets “at all RSC theatres”were £16, the email hadn’t mentioned the cost of the London tickets. I guess I should’ve queried that, but I assumed they would be the same price (and yes, I know what people say, “assume makes an ass out of you and me…”). It appeared the information in the email could be described as incomplete, at best.

If I’d have known the London tickets would be so much more expensive, I might have opted to go to the Stratford touch tour, but of course, I had now missed the date the tickets went on sale to members for this.

I was also told that they couldn’t get me seats near the front for the audio described performance in London, as these had all gone to priority plus members (full members got booking a day earlier, and had opened that morning).

As around 90% of those registered blind have, like myself, some functional vision, I wasn’t pleased to hear this, I try to get as near the front as possible, so I can use low vision aids, as well as audio description. I was very surprised to hear that the RSC apparently don’t reserve a bank of seats near the front, for the one day in the run when audio description was being offered.

I asked about availability for the audio described performance at Stratford, and was told that seats in Row K were available, as, although some seats were reserved for people making use of the audio description, the seats held “weren’t particularly near the front”. I was given some explanation I didn’t fully understand, involving the stage being a thrust stage, and people using the audio description needing to sit in the same area from which the audio describer had viewed the performance.  This seemed a little odd, to say the least, and not really hugely helpful. I was told that row K was “quite near” to the stage. I decided I would look at the seating plans online before booking.

I enquired about associate membership, and was sold one over the phone, I was told this meant I would be able to book tickets online the following day, when priority booking for associate membership opened for the London run.

I got off the phone, and checked the RSC website, according to the seating plan, it appeared row K was, in fact, the second to back row of the stalls. Not what I would define as “quite near” and not helpful for someone with a visual impairment.

I also found there was no way to enter my newly issued membership number online, and I had not been given a username or password, so couldn’t access the members’ areas.

So, persistence being my middle name, I called the RSC once again (actually, for the purposes of accuracy, it’s Jayne, but that doesn’t fit the blog so well, so just go with my artistic licence here, ok?). After waiting yet again in a long queue, I was told I cannot in fact book tickets online  (I would have joined online instead, had I been given accurate information) and would need to phone when tickets went on sale instead.

Friday 8th dawned, and I dragged myself out of bed, and headed to the phone, armed with my membership number and credit card. It took an hour to get through, battling engaged tones, recorded messages telling me to book online (not helping!) or call later, hold music and terrible lines.

This was no more than I expected, and I patiently waited, while eating breakfast, because that’s usually guaranteed to get your call answered at the most inopportune moment, right?

I explained I wanted tickets for the audio described performance, and was told…..

…that there was a note on the system, saying tickets for people requiring audio description could only be booked through the Barbican!!

At this point, I took some deep breaths, tried to calm my inner Hulk, and explained that I had specifically become a member to have early booking, had enquired about this the previous day, and was specifically told I would be able to buy tickets. They decided they were able to sell me tickets, but I wasn’t confident that they’d book the touch tour or audio headset, so decided I would call the Barbican to check this nearer the time. Unfortunately, due to sales opening to full members the day before, I was told the best seats available were in row L.

I decided I would also see about tickets for the Stratford audio described performance, and was told that there was only one seat remaining. One seat!? I said surely some are held for people needing the audio description service, but was told, no, it was first come, first served, and they’d all gone.

So, I had tickets for London, they weren’t good seats and I still felt I needed to check up that it was actually sorted.

Most importantly, I was astounded to be told that all the tickets for the single audio described performance at Stratford had gone, BEFORE they even went on sale to the general public!!

ACT THREE
I took to Twitter to protest, and contacted the heroic Alison, @peskypeople herself, who contacted the RSC.  Alison also highlighted that the webpages detailing accessible performances on the RSC website were down.

Later that afternoon, I recieved a phonecall from a lovely chap at the RSC, who was extremely apologetic about the misinfromation and telephone ping pong (my phrase, not his!). He explained that he was unsure why I had been given incorrect information, but could only put in down to extreme business and apologise. This telephone call was followed up with emails to both myself and Alison.

He explained that:

  • They pride themselves on their accessibility, are usually very good in this area, and wanted to restore my faith in them.
  • RSC do hold seats for people with disabilities for the accessible performances, including some at the front, and had done so for both the London and Stratford runs.
  • He could move my row L seats to row C, and issue two of the tickets as complimentary, as a gesture of goodwill for the difficulties I’d had trying to book.
  • There was a second audio described performance at Stratford, on the 6th November (the incredible vanishing performance of earlier fame), and he would book me row C tickets for this.
  • He would ensure headsets were booked for both audio described performances, and tickets booked for both touch tours.
  • He would ensure anyone booking for these performances will be asked if they want to attend the touch tour, and tickets arranged.
  • He would liaise with the Barbican to discuss which seats are made available to disabled patrons at that venue.
  • The elements of the RSC webpage online had been reduced, in order to cope with the extra traffic during the booking period, this had affected the access pages, but they would ensure these pages are not affected in future.

EPILOGUE
Both Alison and myself were very impressed with the response from the RSC, particularly with the speed in which they responded (within FOUR hours), on what I’m sure was one of their busiest days of the year.

And an apology goes a long way, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The gentleman I spoke to asked if I could summarise the issues and resolutions, so this could be passed to the access team for discussion. I explained that I would write a blog about the issue, as we always like to let people hear the end of the tale, particularly when an issue has been resolved satisfactorily, and give credit where it is due when organisations step up to address concerns.

So, dear readers, all’s well that ends well.

(Please forgive the Shakespeare puns! Unusually, I am writing the blog after the initial issue has been resolved, so the dramatic tension is reduced 🙂 I couldn’t resist a little bit of fun!)