Introduction

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This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It brings together Red Earth Theatre, a small-scale touring theatre company with an established track record and commitment to research in inclusive integrated communication for young audiences (with a focus on deaf audiences) and an interdisciplinary team of researchers across arts and computer sciences at the University of Nottingham to explore solutions for those audiences for whom, up until now, immersion in performance has been hindered by modes of accessibility that divide and distract attention.

Red Earth’s ‘total communication’ approach to making theatre aims to integrate modes of communication – including metaphor, symbol, costume, set, lighting, auditory, signed, oral, written – immersively within the theatrical aesthetics of the performance, but the work required to achieve this is expensive and demanding for small- and medium-scale theatre companies. Working together through a series of workshops and events with key stakeholders from the deaf community, locally and nationally, this project explores the development and use of cheap or freely available immersive technologies to support further development of integrated inclusiveness for deaf audiences in small scale touring productions.

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This collaboration with Red Earth thus combines the company’s creativity and knowledge of integrating non-technological approaches to inclusivity for D/deaf audiences with the University of Nottingham’s own experience of delivering technology that is immersively embedded into performances, with the following aims:

  • to work with Red Earth and stakeholders from the D/deaf community to explore the challenges of making theatre for deaf audience members across a spectrum of hearing impairment from D/deaf to partially hearing.
  • to develop a model of accessible design for inclusive immersive theatre that is integrated in terms of both access and aesthetics from the beginning of the creative process.
  • to identify, scope and prototype appropriate immersive technologies to support delivery of that model at an accessible scale.
  • to begin to evaluate those technologies in performance and to share our findings with local and national stakeholders from the deaf community.
  • to work towards transferability of our approach with theatre makers working in different spectra of disability and access (e.g. autism, visual impairment) and different producing venues.

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