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More than half of UK theaters that offered online performances during the Covid pandemic have returned to in-person performances this fall, raising concerns that improved accessibility for audiences with disabilities may be lost.

Research found that 56% of state-funded theaters that had at least one online performance in the first 18 months of the pandemic have none planned for the fall season.

“Digital programming has led to significant access benefits, especially for geographically remote and disabled audiences,” said Richard Misek, University of Kent, who led the survey with Adrian Leguina from the University. from Loughborough.

“The suddenness and magnitude of this rapid return to in-person-only performances raises an important question: what are the implications not only for remote and disabled audience members, but also for the S / deaf and neurodivergent, vulnerable audience members. , elderly and homebound spectators, caregivers, night workers, those who cannot afford to go to a theater, those who think that going to the theater is “not for them”, and many other potential members of the public for whom physical presence may be difficult or impossible. “

The research, carried out within the framework of an Arts and Humanities Research Council project on digital access to arts and culture during the pandemic, found that 126 of Britain’s 224 theaters and theater companies had at least one production online in the 18 months from March 2020.

For the fall season, 60 have at least one production line. However, five theaters that did not have digital productions during the lockdown have their premiere slated for this fall.

Jamie Hale, director and playwright with a disability, said many people were not ready to return to crowded auditoriums. “You just don’t feel safe,” Hale told Front Row on BBC Radio 4. “During the lockdown I felt a lot more able to experience the theater… I was very concerned about the fact that as auditoriums fill up theaters will reduce the amount they offer for live broadcasts and this will become less possible for people living in rural areas, people with family and parenting responsibilities, not just children. disabled people like me, to access the theater we want. “

Hale’s show, CRIPtic Pit Party, which opens at the Barbican next month, will have live and online performances.

Misek is leading several ‘best practice’ case studies, including an opera company using digital technology to overcome historical cultural barriers to the art form, a performance duo creating a show especially for an audience confined to art. home and an art gallery using digital technology to diversify its artist community.

The most common reason that theaters and theater companies return to in-person productions is financial. “We cannot yet count on digital productions to make a profit. At the same time, the funding to initiate them is piecemeal and erratic. So theaters often lack the economic motivation to bring work online and invest in digital capacity building, ”said Misek.

Some large companies, including the National Theater, Young Vic and RSC, were striving to develop sustainable models of digital theater. “Most of the theaters and theater companies pursuing digital activity this fall are large, providing further evidence of a digital divide between large, well-resourced organizations and small and medium-sized ones,” he said. -he declares.

“In order to capitalize on the advances of the past 19 months, it is important that funders commit money to digital development and that arts organizations continue to experiment with new forms of digital programming.




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