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Accessible theatre for all with Ramps On The Moon

BenWillsActorBenWillsActor Member Posts: 1 Listener

Ben Wilson is a visually impaired theatre maker and actor. He currently works at Sheffield Theatres as part of Ramps On The Moon project.

There’s two things you should know about me. Firstly, I really love theatre and secondly, I have a job title that is either the coolest one in the world or the silliest depending on your perspective.

I really love theatre. I always have and I always will. There’s nothing like the buzz and excitement that surrounds a live performance as the story unfolds right in front of you and the actors are right here in the room with you. 

professional headshot of a male with light hair and glasses wearing a grey shirt looking directly at the camera

From being nine years old and dreaming of being a West End superstar through to being the pompous 19-year-old obsessing over the latest edgy plays, I always knew that I was going to work in theatre somewhere. Even if it meant spending my days selling ice creams in the stalls, I just wanted to be around the theatre. And when I was 23 I was doing just that. I was a jobbing actor, a recent drama school graduate, touring the country in a fun new play.

And then I lost my eyesight. That was a little inconvenient to be honest. A right pain in the backside.

It was a little tough to take, and I really struggled with the idea that this was the end of my career. I presumed I could no longer work in theatre because blind people didn’t do that. It didn’t just feel like the end of my career, but the end of my life.

But…

It wasn’t.

As the weeks and months went by it proved not to be the end of my career. In fact, I would go so far as saying that losing my sight was the start of my life in so many ways- my career in theatre has more purpose and is more fulfilling than it ever was beforehand.

 It wasn’t the end.

So why did I ever think that it was?

For so long, that question bugged me. Until I realised that the answer was staring me in the face.

For 23 years I had gone through life never seeing visually impaired actors, writers or directors on stage or screen. I had only ever seen work that excluded disabled audiences. And when we were represented on stage, it was a non-disabled actor using us as the butt of the jokes or making us out to be pitiful to induce sympathy in a non-disabled audience.

Is it therefore any wonder that upon losing my sight and becoming disabled that I didn’t see a future for myself in the industry?

The short version of all that is that I have first-hand experience of why the arts need to up their game on representing D/deaf and disabled artists and audiences.

So now the silly job title. My job title is “Agent For Change”.

I work as the Ramps On The Moon Agent For Change at Sheffield Theatres. Ramps On The Moon is a brilliant, revolutionary project happening at a consortium of six of the nation’s leading venues. Those six theatres are Ipswich’s The New Wolsey, London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East, The Rep in Birmingham, Nottingham Playhouse, Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse and Sheffield Theatres.

text grahpic featuring the words ramps on the moon and promotion of diversity against a background of on-stage action images

Ramps has two strands to it. Firstly, for every year that Ramps is running there will be a tour travel round those 6 theatres. These shows have a cast and company that brings together D/deaf, disabled, hearing and non-disabled artists. Every performance has integrated BSL, captions and audio description and there will be regular relaxed performances in the hope that these shows will be as accessible as possible. If you haven’t seen a Ramps Show yet, you are seriously missing out.

The second strand to Ramps, and to me the main purpose of the project, is to inspire long-term, positive change in the way these venues and the wider industry think about disability and access. As part of this, all of the Ramps theatres have an Agent For Change and here in Sheffield that’s me! Ta da!

What is so exciting about Ramps On The Moon is seeing senior people in the industry, the people who can make real change, engage with the problems that some of us have been banging on about for years… and that is seeing real results.

It is so exciting to be part of Sheffield Theatres. To be working at a theatre that produces and houses theatre of the highest quality fills me with joy. I may be biased but it seems obvious to me that the work created at Sheffield Theatres can rival any theatre being made anywhere in the country and beyond. So I’m sure you will understand why I absolutely love working here. And it’s a particular thrill to me to see the senior team engage in the fight to make theatre in this country as equal, diverse and accessible as possible- I feel privileged to add to and expand the work that Sheffield Theatres is already doing on this front.

I’d be really interested to hear from people about what more big theatres could do to support disabled audiences. What sort of thing would you like to see your local theatre do to get you involved? And who are your favourite d/deaf or disabled actors?

Replies

  • skyra100skyra100 Member Posts: 3 Listener
    @BenWillsActor congratulations you do such a wonderful job.  I saw  Ramps on the Moon's version of Tommy and it was breathtaking!  It made me want to get up on stage and join in.  It would be lovely if you could do hands on sessions for interested disabled people, alongside productions.  It would be very helpful if disabled people could be allowed to get seated in the auditorium prior to the rest of the public entering.  It can often be awkward when you have to negotiate able bodied people, if nothing else they don't seem to understand that it can take time to get settled in the theatre.

    Keep up the wonderful work you do and if you ever need a 60+ person you know where to find me.

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