ethics, life, theatre

The problem with access

I don’t post about this often but it’s been on my mind recently and it’s weighing me down.

I love the theatre and I love ballet, have done since I was tiny (expelled from ballet lessons aged 7 for wanting to do ‘real dancing’ not endless good toes, bad toes, expelled from drama class at 13 for being “too dramatic” – I kid you not).

But since meeting the Mr a serious question has arisen – why are so many arts spaces hostile to the disabled?

My Mr broke his back aged 21 falling from a window at a party, he had extensive spinal surgery and rehab, he now uses a wheelchair to get around as he is paralysed from the waist down (yes he can still have sex before you ask, no I won’t explain in detail).

He wasn’t a massive theatre goer before we got together 6 years ago, he’d been to a few musicals and some live comedy. I took him to his first festival, first Shakespeare play and first ballet.

Some arts venues are brilliant, super accommodating and helpful (the Lyric Hammersmith, whatever the Hammersmith Apollo is now called, the O2, and a few West End theatres can’t do enough), others are a bit of a pain (Barbican, with its annoying registration process for example) and others are just downright obstructive.

We went to Sadler’s Wells a few years ago to see Matthew Bourne’s Gothic Sleeping Beauty, he’s my favourite choreographer, and I was delighted. The Mr booked the tickets and while they were a bit useless about it, we did get sorted in the end.

Christmas 2014 – Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands is at Sadler’s Wells. I want to go, the Mr says he’ll book, a Christmas present.

We don’t go, because SW have decided people lie about needing a wheelchair space and they want proof – a very particular proof, that even Government agencies don’t ask for, before they’ll make any booking.

We complain, it’s a really obnoxious policy and the access manager isn’t much better. We can’t find the document they want, and no other, even a note from his GP will do.

Who lies about needing a wheelchair space? They’ll look incredibly stupid when they turn up and have to stand, as chairs are removed to make room. You just refuse them then or ask them to pay the full value, or whatever.

It’s a policy I’ve never come across before or since. But it basically says “ballet is not for you” to anyone ringing up.

Ballet gets a lot of stick for being elitist, something many companies and venues are trying to change so to have the dance venue in London behave like this is extraordinary.

This Christmas just gone Sleeping Beauty was back, we didn’t even discuss going, we saw Bill Bailey in the West End instead (he was brilliant and the theatre’s assistance excellence) but I did ring Sadler’s Wells and they still have this mad policy in place. Way to tell disabled dance fans you don’t want them cluttering up your audience.


books, reviews

Book Review – Hope in a Ballet Shoe


Michaela DePrince is currently a dancer with the Dutch National Ballet, before that she was a ballet student in America, and before that she was an orphan in war-torn Sierra Leone.

As a little girl I wanted to be a ballerina, and although that never worked out, I still do the positions on Underground platforms and try to see as much ballet as I can afford.

Michaela wanted to be a ballerina too, but her journey would be long, hard and at times painful.

If you’ve seen the documentary First Position, you’ll recognise the teenage Michaela, one of the few black ballerinas around. She’s got a beautiful smile and dances wonderfully.

Her book takes you from the tragedy of her early years, orphaned by age 4, sold to an orphanage by her uncle, she witnessed the murder of her pregnant teacher and had to flee along with the other children to neighbouring Guinea. Throughout it all she clung to the dream of looking like the ballerina on the front of a magazine she found in the street.

She and her best friend were adopted by a white couple from America, became sisters and began to dance.

Her story is inspiring, heartbreaking and ultimately full of hope and joy.
I stayed up late reading it, not wanting to put it down, desperate to know whether she achieved her dream.

Written with her adoptive mother’s help, Michaela’s story is brilliant for reminding you that thinks can be achieved and if you work hard dreams happen.