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Beatboxing champion Grace Savage on working with The Paper Birds for Blind

6f1e26c61dd4f688d97b21522217cd9aLeeds-based theatre company The Paper Birds previews new production Blind here as part of Hatched, our artists’ development programme, this Friday 18 July at 7pm. Devised with and performed by two-time UK beatboxing champion Grace Savage, Blind explores what young people are hearing today and how that affects who they will become, complete with flour and glitter. Grace fills us in ahead of the show’s Edinburgh Fringe première next month:

How did you get involved with The Paper Birds?

I went to Leeds University and during the summer breaks I would flyer for them in Edinburgh. I got to know the company and their work during this time and we have kept in touch ever since. Jemma caught me beatboxing whilst doing the washing up in our Edinburgh flat and that’s how she found out that I was a beatboxer! She came to see me do a singing/beatboxing gig in London a few years later and then asked if I was interested in making a solo show with them. We started applying for funding, received some support and before I knew it we were making a show together.

What are young people hearing about these days and how was this brought into Blind?

Although the show does focus on what we are hearing in the world, this is largely explored through my own personal experiences and it’s very specific to me as a young woman growing up in the 90’s and early 00’s in Devon, including how I came to be a professional beatboxer. Hopefully within these stories we can highlight similarities to that of the audience’s lives and therefore echo what people may be hearing in the wider world too. The show includes things such as advice from my mum, news reports that were big at the time, lyrics in the music I listened to, advertising slogans, violence in the media…etc.

When you’re growing up you are discovering who you are or want to be: what are your beliefs? How do you want others to view you? These things are really important to you and because as a teenager you are so unsure of who you are inside, you naturally start to gather information from the outside world; start to form opinions, to shape yourself (sometimes consciously sometimes not) and Blind kind of documents how I started to build an identity for myself from these external sources.

Have these things changed since you were that age?

I guess things are always changing and evolving it just takes time to recognise the impact these changes are having. Parents’ advice will change over time based on the experiences of their own generation, music and role models in music are always evolving: Hip Hop is hugely influential now, there has been a change in government, a recession and of course the rise of the internet has been a massive change. I bridged the gap of the internet/smart phone generation so I remember what it was like to not have those things but I also remember how quickly it entered and consumed my life. The internet and social media is a constant presence for young people now and it has changed the way in which we can access the wider world. There is SO much available to listen to now, kids are more easily exposed to things than when I was younger…

What is it like working with a theatre company? Was it a strange dynamic from what you may be used to as a beatboxer?

My background from a very early age has been in theatre and I studied it at University so I am used to working in a theatre environment so I wouldn’t say it was strange but to be combining the two worlds of beatboxing and contemporary theatre has been really exciting and refreshing for me as a performer who loves both art forms.

What was the most challenging thing about this collaboration?

As it is quite a personal piece and a lot of the material is close to home I found that every line and every theme or point we were making suddenly became more heavily weighted as I realised it would be seen as my opinion and that was quite frightening; there is no character for me to hide behind on stage. There was a point in rehearsals that I was analysing every line and sentiment and going “do I really feel that? Does that really represent me? Will the audience think this or that of me, is what I’m saying entirely truthful to me?” but I had to remind myself that a) there is always room for artistic licence in theatre and b) the show is about discovery and uncertainty so all the more reason to embrace my doubts!

Another challenge was trying to find creative and interesting ways to incorporate beatboxing into the piece. We did a lot of playing around with this and really tried to make sure that every time the audience see me beatboxing or I refer to beatboxing, that it is represented/used in a different way.

After this production, would you like to continue collaborating with theatre?

I was recently in a production called Home (directed by Nadia Fall) at The National Theatre as a young pregnant mum who communicated via beatboxing and loved every second of the process. I hope to find a new acting agent and continue a career in both music and acting.

Is there anything you think you’ll take away from this experience and bring back into your music?

There are always transferrable skills between theatre and music, both are essentially story telling art forms and so I hope by continuing with both, they will strengthen each other equally.

How did you start beatboxing?

There were a few older guys who were into beatboxing in the little town I grew up in Devon, one of my best friends Belle (aka Bellatrix) started to learn from them and I was inspired to learn too. I learnt a lot on Youtube and a lot from Belle, we are now pretty much the only two professional beatboxers in the country..and it all started in Crediton!

Can you offer any advice for aspiring beatboxers?

Practice. Practice. Practice. Be original and have no fear. When you feel confident, start out doing some open mic nights and working with other musicians to get better timing and work on your stage presence.

And most importantly, are glitters tasty?

They certainly tasted better than the flour!

Grace Savage performs in Blind this Friday 18 July at 7pm, to find out more and to book, click here. Blind is previewing here as part of Hatched, our artists development programme, for more information on other productions that are part of it, click here.

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Arts Marketing for the Visually Impaired

With nearly two million people in the UK who are blind or partially sighted, making theatre accessible for the visually impaired is crucial. This month, the Albany is presenting The Chairs (Tuesday 29 April – Friday 2 May), produced by Extant, Britain’s only professional performing arts company led by visually impaired (VI) people.

In advance of the show, the company visited the Albany to give staff a workshop on  improving accessiblity for the VI community. Our Marketing Assistant, Allison Gold, tells us what she learned, particularly about marketing to a VI audience:

Working in arts marketing for the past few years, as well as being involved in the performing arts my entire life, I had never previously explored effective ways of communicating to a visually impaired audience. Just being near sighted with contact lenses, I admittedly took for granted my vision and how that makes watching theatre relatively easy. So, when this workshop with Extant was announced, I was immediately keen to learn more.

Facilitated by Sue Perry, Extant’s Training Development Manager, the workshop included the entire Albany team, from our Box Office Assistants, Technical crew and Communications team. Extant members Marion Mansfield and Tim Gebbels, both of whom are visually impaired and obviously involved in the performing arts, guided us through common misconceptions about the VI community. We were then introduced to various gadgets that VI people often use, such as magnifiers, money readers that measure the size of notes and coins, and machines that say the colours of things out loud. It was fascinating – things I had never even thought of before!

From there, we broke off into our respective teams to work through specialised case scenarios. This part of the workshop was especially beneficial to the Comms team as we focused on how marketing to a visually impaired audience differs from a fully sighted one, and the best practice for marketing to both on an everyday basis without alienating the other. As marketing is often a visually led platform, with most arts campaigns focusing on one lead image and using it for print, website, social media and advertisements, it’s not exactly VI-friendly. Here’s what we’ve learned about marketing the arts to the visually impaired:

What issues do you need to consider when marketing for a VI audience?

How will they  find you? Include a detailed description of how to get to the venue on the website.

How will they view your visual marketing? To those who are partially sighted, large enough font sizes and clear colour contrasts in all communications are vital to reading your communications.

How will they hear about you audibly? Including radio announcements and audio podcasts into your communications plans could make the difference to VI people finding out about your events.

How will they read your digital communications? VI people often have different computers that read out internet pages and e-communications. Image links should be properly named so they know where links will be directing them to, instead of just a string of nonsensical code.

How will they read/see your website? As with e-newsletters, make sure everything is properly labelled and links are working correctly. Large enough font sizes and colour contrast is also key here. Perhaps involving the VI community at the beginning of your website, by auditing it, would bring up any areas to develop.

How will they have the most hassle-free experience? Ensure that they know what to expect when arriving at your venue, ie. if there is the Deptford Market on Monday and Wednesday mornings right outside your door, then stating this on your website might alleviate any unnecessary travel woes and confusion.

How can you make this experience better, particularly since they cannot see the costumes and sets? Consider areas to enhance their experience and personalise it for them. Since they may not be able to physically see a production’s set or costumes, why not offer a Touch Tour? Work with other areas of your venue and organisation to make these opportunities happen.

How will you know if you are effectively marketing to them? Just ask. Evaluating their experience via normal channels, such as using audience feedback forms etc., would definitely do the trick.

Are there areas that you can add to better serve the VI community? Other forms of communications that are not often included in your strategy might be worth considering, including telemarketing campaigns and online surveys.

Doing all of the above, and more, can build good relations with blind and partially sighted people, enriching their experience at the venue and make them more likely to become regular audience members. Once this trust has been established, and once they’ve successfully visited a first time without any large hiccups, they are far more likely to return, whether shows are specifically for the visually impaired or not.

More generally, here are 10 facts that Extant taught us about visually impaired people. Did you know:

1) There are about 5,000 Guide Dog owners in the UK.

2) Four out of five people with sight problems are aged 65 or over.

3) You do NOT have to be totally blind to be eligible for a guide dog.

4) Most blind people can see something.

5) Braille is NOT the chief written medium by which blind and partially sighted people communicate. Only 4% of VI people can read it; it is after all another language.

6) It is unlawful in the UK for a taxi driver to refuse to take a passenger because they have a guide dog.

7) Four out of five blind and partially sighted people of working age are unemployed.

8) It’s NOT okay to feed or attempt to play with guide dogs when they are on duty; it distracts them from their job.

9) It’s all right to say ‘see you tomorrow’ to a blind person!

10) Blind and partially sighted people may not go to the theatre quite as often as the fully sighted, mainly due to inaccessibility.

Following this informative workshop, we are working to further improve the Albany’s accessibility for the VI community.

Check out Extant’s The Chairs, here from 29 April to 2 May, starring two blind actors in the lead roles to bring a new interpretation to this classic text by Eugène Ionesco, adapted by Martin Crimp. Extant is also offering free Touch Tours before each show (a guided opportunity to handle and feel key props, costumes or set, with detailed description around how they feature in the play).

To find out more about The Chairs and to book tickets, click here. To find out more about the pre-show Touch Tours and to reserve a place, click here.

Allison Gold, Marketing Assistant, The Albany


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