Friday, May 1, 2009

Access - A Key to Success

Posted by Bruce Miller
One of the many wonderful things about theatre is that almost everyone likes it, from the Ivy League intellectual to the high school dropout. Of course not every Tom, Dick and Harry is going to be blown away by the same production. The show that is treasured by Tom and Dick is likely to be trashed by Harry and his lovely wife Harriet. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who, if he or she were to keep at it for a while, wouldn’t find one show or another to love.

Jill may prefer Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia while Jack gets his kicks from The Great American Trailer Park Musical. But with theatre, each boy and girl who makes it up the hill is going to find, in pretty short order, those particular shows that rock his or her world.

So it’s been for centuries. Theatre prompted many a spirited gathering at the well in days BC just as it encourages vigorous water cooler conversations today. Theatre is not elitist and never has been. It’s populist. And theatre companies, especially nonprofit theatre companies, belong not to the select few, but to the community-at-large.

It follows then that each nonprofit theatre has a responsibility to be accessible to the broadest possible audience—welcoming everyone, excluding no one. This is an easy tenet to write into a vision statement or embrace as a core value. But on a day-to-day basis, a commitment to accessibility is devilishly hard to put into action.

At Barksdale, we are addressing accessibility through five focus areas:
opportunity for leadership,
diversity of programming,
reduction of financial roadblocks,
elimination of physical barriers, and
commitment to broad-based marketing.

In 2005, Barksdale's Board of Trustees created and adopted a multi-year Accessibility Plan to help us organize our efforts and assess our progress related to our commitment to inclusion. We are now well on our way to enacting that plan. I invite you to join us in determining the extent to which our efforts have been successful or misguided, beneficial or detrimental to the overall strength of your theatre.

Over the next several days, I’ll be writing blog posts about what policies and practices we’ve put into place in each focus area, and what the results have been. Coming up first, we’ll discuss Opportunities for Leadership. Be thinking about that issue, and please comment on the upcoming postings if you feel so inclined.

Like all planning efforts, accessibility planning is always a work-in-progress. Hopefully we are learning from both our successes and our failures, and making changes accordingly. Your input is not only most welcome, it is invaluable as we attempt to build a theatre on the intellectual foundation of an entire community, not merely the opinions of a chosen few.

So, please read and respond to the previous post as well as this one. Until my next entry, I hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

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