hamlet-barbican2

Hello again, everyone.

Many thanks to all of you that read and commented on my last blog on Barbican’s access arrangements for Hamlet, either here or on Twitter.

The blog generated a lot of discussion, mostly on twitter, and there are some interesting comments on the blog too. I’ll draw your attention to the comment from Alice, who is a wheelchair user and had an easier time getting tickets, which demonstrates some of the inequalities inherent in the Barbican’s policies. 

There’s also a great blog, Lessons Learned from NYC, about the differences in access in West End and Broadway theatre. I highly recommend reading it.

I really am grateful for people who took the time to read the last post, because it was epic. And I don’t mean that it a good way. I mean it was looooooong.

So today, I’ll try to be more brief (but no promises, okay?)

Today, I want to address some of the comments and queries generated by the last post, and share the information I got via the Freedom of Information requests I put in to the Barbican. I’m happy to share any of the FOI responses I got, if anyone wants to see them in their entirety. They weren’t the easiest things to make sense of.

Some people asked why the 100 seats being held for sale at £10 was relevant to access needs. I think it is relevant, as the Barbican said the show was too popular to hold any seats for those with access needs, yet they can happily hold 9000 seats at a much cheaper rate.

I wasn’t arguing, necessarily, that access seats should be 50% off the cheapest seats, but that there should be consistency in the concessions offered to disabled people. The Barbican stated that wheelchair users would be offered seats at 50% off the cheapest seat, and Alice’s comment suggests that’s what was offered (£15 per seat), whereas I was offered 50% off the most expensive seats. This is treating one group of disabled people more favourably than another, which is discriminatory, and disadvantages those whose needs are only met by the most expensive seats. “The cheapest seats” would be the cheapest normal seats, not the £10 ones. I did not say disabled people should get their tickets for a fiver!

Having said that, a standard reasonable adjustment is to offer a free companion seat to those who need it. Despite saying they offer this on two occasions, the Barbican, like many other theatres, instead offer a disabled person and one companion tickets at 50% off. This is considered equivalent to offering a free companion ticket, and, for those who would not be able to attend without someone to assist them, isn’t actually a discount at all, as it just equates to a disabled person having to buy one full priced ticket and getting a companion ticket for free so they can attend at all, rather than having to pay for two tickets.

As I can only access a production from very near the stage, I have no choice about where I sit, and have to be in the most expensive seats due to my disability. This is why access seats are often discounted by more than 50%, or a free companion ticket and a further discount, is offered. It’s to ensure disabled people aren’t financially disadvantaged by their needs. The Barbican didn’t do this, since their policy effectively only gives a free carer ticket for non wheelchair users. And I also had to was strongly encouraged to purchase membership to get seats suitable for my needs, so was further financially disadvantaged due to my disability. Some theatre companies allow you to buy two tickets at 50% off, (or give a free carer ticket), but allow you to choose which price band you buy, so you aren’t disadvantaged by your limited choice in seats. I have never chosen to buy the cheapest band, when given this option.

I’m sorry if those points above weren’t clear in my original post, what can I say, I was cross!

So, to the information gleaned from the Freedom of Information requests I put in to the Barbican….

Now, you may remember that I’d asked the Barbican direct these questions, and was told I could not have the answers. The law states that a request for information does not have to mention Freedom of Information to be treated under those guidelines. So they never should have refused to provide the information.

When I phrased it as an FOI request, I got a standard acknowledgement from the Information Officer for the City of London (who are responsible for the Barbican) stating that they are required to respond within 20 working days. When I replied, stating that I’d originally asked for most of the information on 30th July and again on 6th August, the information previously requested arrived the following day, along with an apology for the delay. No mention was made of the refusal to provide the information originally, and as I’d added some questions, other information would not be provided until October.

Here’s the information I requested, and the answers:

(Responses, and direct quotes from the Barbican are in italics)

 (1) How many access rate tickets are available per performance?

10 discounted seats per performance with an additional 8 wheelchair (plus carer)seats available per performance, so up to a total of 26 access discounts available in total per show.

 Later FOI requests demonstrated that the price for these seats was 50% of the seat cost, so, essentially, free companion ticket, but no other discount or adjustment made for when someone’s disability limits where they can sit.

So, this is five pairs of seats for disabled people who don’t use wheelchairs, and 8 pairs for those who do. This doesn’t seem in line with the percentages of people with different disabilities in the population, and is still very small compared with the 100 discounted tickets per performance.

(2) How many seats, with accompanying discounts, were reserved for the audio described performance?

20 seats set aside in the Stalls (all 20 discounted).

So ten pairs for the audio described performance? That’s all??

(3) How many for the captioned performance?

36 seats set aside in the Stalls (all 36 discounted).

So 18 pairs for the captioned performance, approaching double for that of the audio described performance. This seems very peculiar and doesn’t look like equality to me! But, then, there are around 10 million people in the UK with hearing loss, and 2 million with visual impairment, so it’s probably appropriate that more seats for captioned performance are held, than for the audio described performance.

But…. (sorry, I’m about to get all statistical again!) the population of the UK is 64 million, so an appropriate number of seats to hold for hearing impaired customers is actually 180, and 36 for visually impaired customers. Plus companion seats where required (and that would be per performance, not just for one accessible show). I can provide my working for extra credit 😛

(4) Please provide copies of any correspondence, emails, minutes of meetings etc that relate to the discussion of, and agreement upon, the limits to access concessions offered for the 2015 SFP production of Hamlet

 The response to this included several emails, with names redacted, and my own emails to the Barbican removed. Which demonstrates that the contents of some of the emails, at least, were prompted by my requests.

The first two emails had the subject “Fwd: Access Issues at the Barbican FIND OUT ABOUT RSC AND ASK SFP ABOUT MORE CAPTIONED SEATS“. The addition in capitals is the Barbican’s. They say they are formulating a response to me, but that

“it came out, while talking to [redacted]-our Licensing and Access Manager- that we are legally obliged to to have 1% of the house available to wheelchair users – so we need to offer those [redacted] seats in the Upper Circle (B9-12 and 56-59) as wheelchair seats and presumable find seats [redacted] seats elsewhere”.

So, it seems, I did, in fact, improve access for Hamlet, and the sorry state of affairs was AFTER they improved things in response to my inquiries! I find it interesting to note they redacted the number of extra seats needed, so we don’t know how far from 1% they actually were before this.

The next two emails regard access numbers for past access shows.

Richard II had 22 access concessions for the captioned performance, and the author states that they should up their quota. The other person says based on take up for past access performances, and “bearing in mind how much else I am asking SFP to give at the moment), can we leave the captioned discounts at the moment? ie 36 held, 20 discounted?”

Interesting to note that not all of the held seats for the captioned performance were initially to be discounted, only 20 of them. Obviously this changed before tickets went on sale.

A pdf of the attachment to that email was enclosed, it was a list of productions, with columns showing the number of tickets issued for audio described/captioned performances, and the total number of access and wheelchair tickets issued for the entire run of the  production.

The numbers are generally small, ranging between 4 and 860 access concessions for the entire run of the show.

So, disabled people are not accessing the Barbican’s performances at rates comparable to that in the general population. Does this indicate that disabled people don’t want to go to the theatre? Or that better access needs to be offered? Either way, it means that the Barbican weren’t likely to lose much money by offering more access seats to their performances.

The final email has so many redactions that it’s hard to understand, but says that as of 12th August, there was more than one wheelchair space left per performance, so they suggested removing one per performance to keep for the [redacted] (presumably the £10 ticket scheme next year, which appears to be super secret squirrel so far).

Extracts from documents were also enclosed. From the Barbican’s Rental Terms and Conditions:

Discounts: across the run with the provision to extend the allocation by mutual agreement.

Total of 10 ambulant access seats per performance plus a maximum of 10 wheelchair seats per performance at a 50% discount.

Total of 40 access seats per performance at a 50% discount for any performance which the Visiting Company, at its own discretion, designates as a specific ‘access’ performance (either captioned, signed or audio described.)

So THE BARBICAN set the numbers of access seats offered as part of its rental agreement. This is interesting, as venues often blame promoters for not offering access discounts. It’s also worth noting, that the Barbican’s own terms and conditions for visiting theatre companies are in hreach of the legal duty to provide 1% of seats for wheelchair users, as mentioned in their emails. And that they could have provided 40 seats for the captioned and audio described performances, but chose not to.

Extracts from the Box Office Set Up Form for Hamlet and the updated version of this document contradict information provided above:

“”Total of 10 ambulant access seats per performance plus a maximum of 4 wheelchair seats per performance available at 50% discount.”

36 holds for the captioned performance, 20 discounted.

20 holds for the audio described performance, 20 discounted.

This contradicts information I was given, so I’m unsure whether all of the seats for the captioned performance were discounted or not.

That was a lot of information, wasn’t it? Sorry!

Highlights:

  • The Barbican weren’t aware of their legal obligations regarding access, and changed some seat allocations in response to my emails.
  • The discounts offered only equate to a free companion ticket, and don’t account for needs limiting where disabled people can sit.
  • Very few access discounts were given for regular performances.
  • The number of seats set aside for the captioned performance was higher than for the audio described performance.
  • The number of seats set aside for both access performances were pretty low.
  • Take up for access discounts at the Barbican are low.

I don’t know what to make of this, really. I think it shows an interesting insight into the haphazard handling of access in a major theatre.  I tried hard to get the Barbican to commit to fairer access policies for all disabled customers, but they just weren’t willing to.

Where do we go from here? I don’t know. If you’ve ideas, let me know.

I am tempted to send FOI requests to lots of theatres though, to get a picture of how this works across the board…..