Consumer group sets the scene for more dementia-friendly RSC performances

Performances with more intervals and clearer, better-positioned signage could make visits to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST), Stratford-upon-Avon, even more enjoyable for people living with dementia, a local group says in a new report by consumer research charity Rica.

The group, eight members of the Redditch and Bromsgrove Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP)  group called ‘Friends Together’, all have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. They range in age from the late 50s to the early 70s.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has been providing performances for audiences with different access needs for many years, including  ‘relaxed’ performances aimed at children with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, sensory and communication disorders, or a learning disability. In 2016 they teamed up with DEEP and Rica to assess the suitability of the RST as a venue for people with dementia. In particular they wanted to find out:

  • Are relaxed performances suitable for the needs of people with dementia?
  • What are the issues with the RST which can be overcome to make the building itself more dementia-friendly?

The research took the form of a visit to a relaxed performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the RST, Stratford-upon-Avon, by eight members of ‘Friends Together’ and five of their friends and partners. It was carried out in a spirit of collaboration and was not intended as an inspection.

The eight DEEP members found the experience very positive and most would come again, they told Rica researchers. However they made some recommendations which could improve the experience for people with dementia, including:

  • Signage: signs should be unambiguous, easy to read and placed ‘where you’d expect them’ and where they would not be distracting
  • Performances: shorter time between intervals, with actors speaking more slowly and at consistent sound levels
  • Facilities: cater for groups of people by making cafe or bar spaces available to be reserved; in toilets, make it obvious how to use sensor-controlled appliances

Group members were also keen on the idea of a performance specifically designed for people with dementia.

Eric Harris, senior researcher, Rica, said:
“These findings open the way for more theatres and arts services to consider the needs of people living with dementia when designing signage and facilities as well as accessible performances. By consulting visitors and designing inclusively, venues can take action to make their buildings and productions easier for everyone to use and enjoy.”     

Liz Wainwright, RSC Head of Theatre Operations, said:
“As a national theatre based in the heart of the Midlands, we want as many people to view our work whether it’s through relaxed performances, audio described shows, British sign language performances, captioned performances, touch tours, interpreted post-show talks – we are always working on ways to reach as many people as possible.”

The project was carried out by Rica, the experts in age and ability research, in partnership with Innovations in Dementia (iD) and local groups developed through the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP). Rica has been funded by the John Ellerman Foundation in a new initiative to develop and carry out consumer research with people with dementia. This is the third project iD and Rica have carried out with people with mild dementia as consumers.

Rica is a consumer research charity that works with older and disabled people and aims to improve products and services to ensure inclusion and full access. www.rica.org.uk. Read more about Rica’s dementia research here: www.rica.org.uk/content/dementia-research

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