Here at The Lowry we’re committed to providing access to the arts for everyone in our community. In 2016 alone our theatres and galleries presented nine British Sign Language, 14 audio described, five captioned and 12 relaxed performances and tours. The work we’re doing to improve the accessibility of our building, shows and exhibitions was recognized with a Silver Award from Attitude is Everything in 2016. Now we’re going for Gold.
Last month The Lowry presented its first ever dementia friendly performance of a modern all male production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic operetta The Mikado.
We’re members of Salford Dementia Action Alliance and in 2014, we identified a gap in our provision for people living with dementia and made a commitment to offer all staff dementia awareness training. I’m proudly wearing my Dementia Friends badge whilst I write this.
Following in the footsteps of West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, who pioneered the first dementia friendly theatre performances in the UK, we knew that the next step was to present a dementia friendly performance. But which show would it be?
Music is used in dementia care and is known to unlock memory so it was decided a musical would be good place to start. Our programming team identified Regan De Wynter Williams Productions, who were visiting us with their production of ‘The Mikado’ in July 2017 as a company who fit the bill.
Written in 1885 by Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado is a Japanese operetta set in topsy-turvy Titipu. Nostalgic and timeless we understood that this familiar title would have been watched by our audience when they were younger.
To adapt the show for audiences with dementia the show’s creative team made a number of subtle changes to the show including the pace of the storyline and length of the songs. If you came to watch both versions you wouldn’t have noticed the difference but the show was 17 minutes shorter. Additionally, the lights in the auditorium were raised during the performance and sound levels were a little lower than normal.
But that’s not where it stopped. As a theatre we decided to have an open door policy so that theatregoers could enter and leave whenever they needed to; we had extra trained staff on hand to help out with individual’s needs, we provided accessible guides for bookers ahead of their visit and left gaps in the seating plan to make people feel more comfortable.
We also teamed up with Clare Morel, a local ‘Singing for the Brain’ leader from the Alzheimer’s Society who ran a fantastic and highly animated singing workshop before the show. This was a great addition to the event as it really warmed up those vocal boxes and got people in the mood for a musical.
The cast were prepared for a lively audience, who didn’t disappoint on the day, contributing with lots of whoops and cheers.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Mikado’ was a brilliant choice of show which really grabbed the attention of our patrons that day. So far our customer feedback has been excellent. Our first ever dementia friendly performance was a brilliant day and proved that theatre is for everyone. I just can’t wait for the next one.