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CReATeS Research Report National Theatre Scotland

CReATeS Research Report National Theatre Scotland

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Published by Nesta
This project explored how to increase audience accessibility at every National Theatre of Scotland production, regardless of where it is staged.
This project explored how to increase audience accessibility at every National Theatre of Scotland production, regardless of where it is staged.

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Published by: Nesta on May 01, 2014
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06/27/2014

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National Theatre of Scotland Research report
 
Enabling greater accessibility to the Arts
Dr Susan Berridge, Research Assistant, University of Stirling Dr Gail Greig, Lecturer in Management, University of St Andrews
Executive Summary
Background
The aim of the project was to explore how to increase the audience accessibility of every National Theatre of Scotland production, regardless of where it is staged, particularly to people with hearing and visual impairments. The project was undertaken by the arts organisations, the National Theatre of
Scotland (NTS) and ‘Flip –
 
Disability Equality in the Arts’, and technology partner, We Are Everyone.
 The project was awarded £54,862 from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland and was developed between March 2013 and October 2013.
The project
The project aimed to create a platform to relay captioning and audio description directly to smartphones and tablets in real time during live theatre performances. This platform would then have the potential to greatly increase the audience accessibility of the NTS, by opening up all of their productions, regardless of when and where they are staged. Currently, 600000 potential customers with hearing and visual impairments only have limited access to theatre shows.
1
 Focus groups with both visually impaired and hard of hearing audiences were integral to project development from the outset. At the same time, We Are Everyone worked on the technical development of the platform, using feedback generated by these sessions to identify issues that needed to be addressed. A final testing session of the platform with both groups took place during a live performance of one o
f the NTS’ productions on October 12
th
 2013.
Results
The scope of the funded project was to explore the usability and testing of the software with the end users rather than to necessarily create a final product. At the end of the funded period, We Are Everyone had created a platform that worked effectively in controlled situations. The platform is
1
 
National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund
for the Arts in
Scotland Application’, February 2013.
 
 
 2 currently in its trial stage and a key challenge remains its suitability for every NTS performance, regardless of where it is staged. Further testing is needed to address residual technical and logistical issues. Focus group research
has increased significantly NTS’s
understanding of how visually impaired and hard of hearing audience members experience traditional captioning and audio description. Key limitations and benefits of both the existing offerings and the new platform emerged. The project has also increased awareness within the NTS of the need to address access issues and to increase buy-in from theatre practitioners and other NTS staff. It has enabled the NTS to build links with potential future partners such as various theatre venues and Scottish Ballet.
Insights
Insights derived from the development of the platform relate to several key areas; R&D approaches; user-testing and the impacts on technical development and the impact of cultural and technical challenges. The key lessons learned from the project are:
 If using a genuine R&D approach, it is important to devote substantial time to think through roles, timelines and lines of communication at the beginning of the project.
 In doing so, it is vital to be sensitive to the different ways of working of publically funded, non-commercially minded and commercial organisations.
 If using an iterative R&D process, it is important for all partners to agree in advance about how this might work in terms of communication.
 Technology partners need to make sure that arts organisations are given a clear understanding of technical developments.
 In turn, arts organisations need to make sure that technology partners are fully aware of their technical requirements and capabilities from the outset.
 The skills of the service providers are key to the experience of the audience member.
 Digital platforms need to integrate as much as possible
with arts organisations’
 working practices in order to make them sustainable.
 
The development of a platform to deliver captioning and audio description directly to users’ smartphones impacts upon visually impaired and hard of hearing users’ experiences in
different ways. It is also important to be aware that some users will continue to prefer traditional captioning and audio description and, thus, that the project offers an alternative rather than a replacement to existing services offered.
Future
Further testing of the platform will advance it to be fully operational for every NTS production, regardless of where it is staged.  A Content Management System is to be created so that the NTS can update the platform as required. Effective automation of the provision is to be further explored. Lastly, questions regarding the potential commercialisation of the project are to be fully explored.
 
 3
1. Background
This project was a collaboration between the arts organisations, National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) and
‘Flip –
 
Disability Equality in the Arts’ (
Flip) and, technology partner, We Are Everyone. Founded in 2006, the NTS (www.nationaltheatrescotland.com) was d
esigned ‘
to create theatre experiences that are contemporary,
confident and forward looking’.
2
 Although they have a head office in Glasgow, the NTS has no permanent performance space of its own. Instead it creates and tours theatre productions across Scotland and beyond, by collaborating with other existing venues. NTS performances often take place in non-traditional locations such as public baths, a quarry, tower blocks and airports, as well as in traditional theatres.
 As one of Scotland’s five national performing
companies, along with Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the NTS is funded directly by the Scottish Government. In addition to a permanent staff of 41, the NTS also annually employs over 600 theatre practitioners to assist with the creation of their productions.
3
 The key members of the NTS involved in the project include Marianne Maxwell, Audience Development Manager, Elly Rothnie, Development Director, Colin Clark, former Web and Publications Editor, and Stuart Rennie, former Trusts and Foundations Manager. Colin was initially named as the overall project lead on the funding application, but after he left the NTS in July 2013, the leadership role was divided between Marianne and Mairi Taylor of Flip, both of whom come from an audience development background. Maxwell went on sabbatical in July 2013, at which point Mairi assumed the responsibility of project lead, working closely with Elly on project development. Edinburgh-based Flip (www.flip.org.uk) provides support to organisations of all sizes to impact upon disability equality in the arts and embed this equality into their working practice. Previously, Flip has worked on projects including Reverb Scotland, a website and event held in Stirling in September 2010 that gave disabled musicians within Scotland a platform to share their music with others. Flip has also published the Access Scottish Theatre Guide, a marketing tool for people to find out about accessible performances nation-wide. Flip has produced editions of the Guide on behalf of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, funded by Creative Scotland. Flip has a core staff of two, comprising Mairi Taylor and Robert Gale. Robert attended one of the project meetings early on, but it is Mairi who has been directly involved in the project throughout, acting as a
representative and advocate of the project’s
intended end users as well as project lead. She has been working in the area of arts and access since 2003. We Are Everyone (www.weareeveryone.com) is a Glasgow-based digital communications agency, founded in 2009 and run by technical director, Colin Walker and creative director, Dino Squillino. They have a staff of nine digital professionals, including experts in strategy, design, development, online marketing and social media. In 2012, We Are Everyone were the recipient of the RBS New Business of the Year Award.
4
 The initial idea for the project derived from Stuart Rennie of NTS identifying the opportunity provided by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Scotland and approaching Colin Clark to attend the Nesta Digital Day in October 2012.
5
 At that point, there was no clear pre-existing idea that the NTS wanted to develop. However, after speaking with the digital specialists present at the workshop, initial discussions formed around context and, specifically, the increasing importance of smartphones for engaging with a range of surrounding environments. This idea was appealing to the NTS, given its lack of a fixed performance space. The initial idea was to create a mobile phone app, possibly a loyalty app. This idea developed further following subsequent meetings between Stuart and Colin in
2
 
National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund
for the Arts in Scotland Application
, February 2013.
3
 
National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund
for the Arts in
Scotland Application’, February 2013.
 
4
 
National Theatre of Scotland, ‘Digital R&D Fund
for the Arts in
Scotland Application’, February 2013.
 
5
 Interview with Colin Clark, National Theatre of Scotland, 11
th
 April 2013.

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