Saturday, 29 September 2012

Les Miserables @ Queen's Theatre & Q&A with Rebecca Caine and AJ Callaghan

Welcome back to Access London and Thank You once again for helping to support Access For All to the Arts. Opening on the 8th of October 1985 at The Barbican Theatre, Les Miserables is the world's longest running musical and will celebrate its 27th birthday in just over a weeks time. After a short run at The Barbican Theatre, the show transferred to The Palace Theatre in London's West End in December 1985 and spent 18 years there. In 2004, the show moved to its current home at The Queen's Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Access Information - Queen's Theatre: If you are a wheelchair or mobility scooter user or cannot manage stairs, please inform a member of staff upon arrival and they will escort you round to the Accessible entrance. The Accessible entrance to the auditorium is through the fourth side door on Wardour Street. If you are able to transfer from your chair, level transfers are available in row D (may not be suitable for very low seated wheelchairs) in the Dress Circle. Chairs and scooters will be taken and stored at the bottom of the stairs, next to the foyer. If you are a scooter user and prefer not to leave your key with a member of staff, you can drive the scooter there yourself and walk back up to your seat (back up a ramped walkway with handrails). For those needing/wishing to remain in their chairs, spaces are available in Loge 1 and 2 for you and a companion. These will be suitable for wheelchairs which are maximum 1m in length and 64cm wide. For those who can manage some stairs, the Queen's has: 18 steps from the foyer up to the rear Dress Circle. 21 steps from the foyer down to the Stalls. 39 steps from the foyer up to the Upper Circle (this area is quite steep). Assistance dogs are allowed into the auditorium or staff can sit with them during the performance.
Queen's is fitted with an infra-red system and there are 12 headsets available to use upon request and with the production of ID (please inform booking line if you require this service).These are available from the foyer (please ask a member of staff if you are unable to manage stairs), a receipt must be signed and £5 returnable deposit left. There is an Accessible WC next to the foyer, it can be accessed by radar key, or ask a member of staff for assistance to open it. None of the bars at Queen's are Accessible without negotiating stairs but drinks can be brought into the auditorium to those with disabilities. There is a discounted Access rate available to those with a disability, for you and a companion. Please note, there are a very limited number of Access discounted seats per performance and, for such a popular show, early booking is advised if you'd like to take advantage of these rates. To book Access seats and for all other Access information, please call the box office directly on 0844 482 5137 and press the option for the Queen's Theatre. There are occasional captioned and audio-described performances of Les Miserables scheduled. For details of the next performance, please call 0844 482 5166. A lot of readers have been asking me what singers and actors' knowledge and opinions of Access (and sometimes lack of Access) to our theatres and arts venues means to them. So, I've put some of your questions to them and will be posting a series of mini Q&As with some fabulously talented people. As this post's Access information was on Les Miserables, today's mini Q&A is with both the Original Cosette, Rebecca Caine, and current Les Mis cast member (and cover Fantine) AJ Callaghan. Thank you very much to both for their constant support.
Many theatres/arts venues in London still have little or no disabled access. How aware are you of these issues? And how aware do you think other people in the business are? RC: I wasn't at all aware and I'm shocked. I don't think most of us have much of an idea about these issues. AJC: From working front of house at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and talking to some of the disabled patrons, I am actually very aware of this. Drury Lane has a very good system in place which highlights the discrepancies in other venues. Unfortunately, due to the way theatres are built and because of the time they were built, not all of them have street level access to the auditorium. For instance, just across the road from Drury Lane, is The Fortune Theatre; this theatre has a very small entrance and access to all seating is either up or down stairs, which could be extremely problematic for a disabled patron. With regards to other people's awareness, I'm not really sure. It's not a conversation I've heard backstage recently but this doesn't mean people aren't aware.
As a singer and actor, how important is it to you that everyone who wants to see you perform can access the venue to do so? RC: It’s very, very important to me! AJC: Very Important. Everybody should have access to the arts.
Many theatres and theatre groups currently don't promote and publicise their Access details and rates particularly well. Could this be because they don't want to sell discounted Access tickets or do you think other reasons could be involved? RC: I don't know. Maybe. In the end it's all about the bottom line, sadly. AJC: Unfortunately, Theatre has become part of the corporate world. Making money is a very high priority, if not top of the list of aims for most shows these days. Therefore I hate to say it, but I think maybe it is a case of wanting to sell the seats at top price, rather than advertise a discounted rate, no matter who is affected as a result.
Some of the larger arts venues (Barbican, RFH, RAH, ROH, Coliseum) have their own Access schemes with free membership, large info packs, Access rates, dedicated Access teams. Do you think such schemes could work in West End and off West End theatres? RC: Interesting about those larger venues as they are subsidised. Yes, I believe it would work in the West End also. AJC: Definitely! As I mentioned earlier, Drury Lane has a brilliant access scheme. A separate entrance with a doorbell, which welcome’s the patrons at street level, taking you directly to the access seats. The disabled toilet is also in this area and the seats are set on a wider aisle, making it easier for people who aren't transferring to sit comfortably. An access host is employed on site whose job it is to ensure the well-being of access patrons and that all venue information is relayed proficiently. With a bit of thought and effort, I'm sure this system could be brought in to most, if not all, West End theatres. Any message to theatre owners and groups about the future of Access for All at their venues? RC: GET ON WITH IT. Theatre is for all. AJC: Just that arts audiences should not be defined in any way. Theatre should be accessible to all and as a theatre owner, it is your responsibility to make this possible.
Once again, a big Thank You to both Rebecca and AJ for taking the time to answer those. Rebecca will be returning to The Pheasantry (on the King's Road, London) to perform No, No Cosette! again on the 12th and 13th October. A fabulous evening... "Internationally acclaimed operatic and musical theatre soprano reveals her dark side. Music by Blitzstein, Vernon Duke, Turnage, Ravenhill/Offenbach, Kern, Porter, Novello, Yeston, Coward and more. With Nathan Martin on piano." The Pheasantry, unfortunately, can only be Accessed via a flight of stairs. If you can manage these, then it's a night not to be missed. To book for the 12th October, go HERE . For the 13th October, go HERE . For details of Rebecca's concerts, in Canada this Autumn and Winter, see her WEBSITE . Follow Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaCaine .
AJ is currently performing in Les Miserables until June 2013. Her next dates as Fantine are: 1st & 2nd October, 11th-20th October and 29th November-1st December. To book Access seats for Les Miserables, call 0844 482 5137. Follow AJ on Twitter @AJCallaghan1 .

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