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Accessibility the key to stories on offer at Riverside

A sophisticated approach to access is opening opportunities for artists with disability at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres. Check out ArtsHub writer, Megan Anderson’s article below.

More Western Sydneysiders are going to the theatre than ever before, thanks to Riverside Theatres’ inclusive approach to access.

Not only is Riverside easier to visit to than ever, it’s also ensuring work by people with disability is central to its main program.

‘I think it’s essential that all theatres, all the time, are looking to support people to tell their stories and share their stories,’ said Riverside program coordinator for access Sophie Clausen.

Highlights of Riverside’s recently announced 2016 program include Melbourne-born performer Caroline Bowditch’s Falling in Love with Frida, which explores the life, loves, legacy and lived disability of painter Frida Kahlo. Bowditch, who spent the last ten years in the UK developing her skills as an artist and director exploring disability arts, will bring the award-winning show to Parramatta audiences from March 4 to 5.

‘I really like this piece: it’s political, it’s personal, it’s poetic. It’s a rare find,’ said Clausen.

The Riverside program also highlights the importance of making theatre accessible to audiences: whether through Auslan interpreters, hearing loops, relaxed performances, audio descriptions or wheelchair seating.

‘There’s no point having great programming if people can’t get through the door in the first place, or don’t feel they can enjoy the production because of a lack of accessible communication.’

‘We’ve been looking at ways where we’re not just doing Auslan interpreted shows, but we’re doing shows that the community wants to go and see,’ said Clausen. ‘For instance, we worked with the Deaf Society of NSW and Deaf Australia to present two films featuring deaf characters and culture as part of the National Week of Deaf People.’

Central to Riverside’s commitment to access is its popular Beyond the Square program, which runs drama and movement workshops to boost skills and develop creative work with artists with disability.

Clausen said people often ‘graduate’ from the program to pursue further opportunities in creative and professional development. On the graduate list is award-winning actor Gerard O’Dwyer, who was a co-founder of Riverside’s Ruckus ensemble. O’Dwyer is currently shooting a new film alongside John Jarratt and is slated to work on another in 2016.

As the largest and busiest performing arts centre in Western Sydney, Clausen said it’s important for Riverside to represent stories from its diverse community – including stories from people with disability.

‘I think people have such interesting lives and, if the story is told well, they enrich us. People with disability have a voice and stories to tell, so we want to ensure they get that opportunity.

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