In September 2014, the second Unlimited Festival took over the Southbank of London with an intensive week performances, talks and events that showcase artists with disability.
Sprouting from the Cultural Olympiad, which coincided with the London 2012 Olympic Games, Unlimited has grown into a five day festival of theatre, dance, music, literature, comedy and visual arts. As the festival grows it has gained more support. The Unlimited Commissions Program which runs alongside the festival, received £1.5 million from Arts Council England to deliver a three year program with additional support from venues and partners, including Creative Scotland, Southbank Centre, British Council, Disability Arts Online and DaDaFest.
As well as showcasing a range of new work from artists, the festival takes pride in making the event accessible. This accessibility ranges from site access and general availability of services, to access for the event which includes captioned performances, audience described performances and touch tours.
Performance maker and choreographer, Caroline Bowditch, took part in the festival with her show, Falling in love with Frida, that explored the life, loves and legacy of painter Frida Kahlo. Originally from Australia, Bowditch has now established herself in Glasgow and sees the Unlimited Festival as an important feature of the arts landscape.
‘Unlimited is an invaluable opportunity to increase the visibility of the high quality work being produced and presented by disabled artists. There is always an incredible buzz at Unlimited as the sense of equality is almost palpable!’.
The festival also worked to include British Sign Language interpreters as part of the performances. Here the festival embeds the interpreters, including them as actors in the performance or shadowing actors onstage, rather than being an add-on or afterthought on the side of stage.
Morwenna Collett, Disability Coordinator at Australia Council, traveled to the festival and was able to see how this embedded access was an enhancement to the performance, not a hindrance.
‘While there is always room to make arts experiences even more accessible, seeing first hand a festival with aspirations to achieve the highest levels of accessibility was very encouraging. Seeing shows where performers had thought about access right from the start, integrating it into the performance to enhance the presentation overall was inspiring. Providing a high level of access makes things better for everyone, not just people with disability and my hope is that artists and arts organisations from all areas will continue to strive toward providing equal access for all audience members to enjoy their work’.
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Image: Falling in Love with Freda by Caroline Bowditch