We are artists and theatre makers. We are enablers. We believe that all children have the right to arts and culture. But ‘right’ is only a word and it’s the realities that we all live in, in all our different countries, that make the journey to this goal so challenging.
The three-year dramaturgy decided on by the Executive Committee after the last congress is Towards the Unknown. As we go on this journey we are seeking the kind of explorative thinking that can take the association into the future. To me the provocation is about being prepared for possibility – seeking out the ways in which change can happen: changes in artistic practice, systems and structures, communication and our relationship with our audiences, responding to the unexpected and being curious about the potential in every encounter, drawing our community closer and reaching out to expand it at the same time.
One of the questions the EC is asking is “who is not in the room, and why?” This question is at the heart of inclusivity: that the possibility for everyone to become involved is not only offered, but enabled. Asking why people are not there makes us look for the barriers to their inclusion. The following segment is taken from the updated ASSITEJ Policy and Protocols Handbook:
Universal Access is about positively affecting the participation of marginalised people through acknowledgement, identification through consultation, development of strategies, removal and ongoing monitoring of barriers to involvement.
Universal Access for ASSITEJ relates to theatre makers and attendees. It means proactively making changes to the current modes of operation within organisations and events, and making attitudinal and physical changes in order to engage with the broadest reach of people.
Importantly, Universal Access means opening ourselves to new frontiers of theatre making.
Universal Access is a mindful notion. To look at our art and our lives through this lens asks us to change the ways we currently act and think and speak. Universal access asks for shifts in language, learning new languages, learning new ways of being and working, un-learning old practice, changing physical structures, giving space and time, being prepared to step aside, enabling new voices, seeking opinion, accepting criticism, being interested in the challenge to ‘usual’ practice.
Offering opportunity is one thing, enabling access is another. For those who cannot easily find a pathway to make or experience the arts, stepping stones must be laid down and doors opened, deliberate mechanisms put in place to allow the greatest involvement. Thinking in terms of universal access opens up new ways of working and engaging people, introduces new and broader audiences and offers a greater reach for all.
The last line of the segment above is vital: opening ourselves to new frontiers of theatre making. ASSITEJ gives us the opportunity to share best practice, to collaborate in increasingly diverse ways, to keep experimenting together and making sure there is a place in the room for all, and that ‘rights’ can really mean something.