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Copyright: Sidonie Ferguson

Theatre Access Schemes – Part 2

Part One of our Theatre Access Series looked at what exactly Access Schemes are and what it can mean to be an Access Customer. In Part Two, Sidonie shares her experience as an Access Customer while attending a recent performance. As with Part One, we hope this gives more insight and understanding as to why it’s important Access Schemes exist.

Experience as an Access Customer

So, what’s different for an Access Customer when they attend a performance? In many ways nothing, in others you can sometimes feel a bit like a VIP. Did you know that some theatres have ‘secret’ doors that allow for fully step free access, or that there are ‘hidden’ toilets that allow Access Customers to avoid standing in long queues? A whole exciting unknown world is revealed when you’re an Access Customer.

On arrival you’ll first need to identify yourself to a member of staff – many theatres now provide dedicated Assistance trained staff to support Access Customers during their visit. These staff meet you at the theatre’s entrance and will then escort you to you to your seats via the best route possible – be it step free, or via a quiet route, whatever is needed. They’ll also offer to help you get programmes, and drinks from the bar, and will always come to check everything’s okay at the interval – even if you’ve said they don’t need to worry, which is a lovely personal touch that adds to the experience.

My most recent experience of Access Services was attending Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre, and it is amongst the best I’ve experienced. As some may be aware, entry to Hamilton is complicated due to strict conditions of entry, so there is often a long queue to enter the theatre – this was something that I was quite worried about. Before our visit I’d called and explained my difficulty standing for long periods and was told to identify myself to a member of security on arrival and someone would be expecting me. Within a couple of minutes, a member of staff arrived and fast tracked me through the security process. After a quick chat with the ever important question of ‘how are you with stairs?’ asked, we headed to an area where I could sit and wait, as the auditorium had not opened yet. Once settled, as I had a companion, I was asked if I would be happy to remain where I was while the member of staff helped other Access Customers, assuring me that once auditorium opened he would return.

As promised, once the auditorium opened he returned and escorted us to our seats, pointing out the nearest bar and accessible toilets as we went. On reaching our seats he waited until I was settled, made sure there was nothing else I needed and chatted with us for a while about the show and theatre – his enthusiasm for both clear, adding to the excitement we already felt about attending the performance. At the interval he came by to check everything was okay and that we didn’t need any extra help then or later, and made sure to point out the most accessible exit for the end of the show before heading off to check on the afternoons other Access Customers – it was a full house so I expect he was quite busy.

What made the experience special was that at no point did I feel rushed or that I was an extra burden on already very busy staff – a feeling felt from every staff member I interacted with, not just the staff member who had been assigned to help Access Customers that day. The whole experience was extremely positive – so much so that I took the time on arriving home to email and compliment the staff on the service they had provided – something we as customers often forget to do but I know is really appreciated.

When I first started to use Access services I was always scared that someone would look at me and decide I was lying about my needs and refuse to help me, but this has never been the case. I have always been made to feel welcome and have never been questioned when I’ve asked for a little extra help. I’m very grateful for this acceptance and openness, it’s something I always aim to provide when working with Access Customers myself.

For further information about Access Services provided at the Victoria Palace Theatre and other Delfont Macintosh Theatres please click here. You can also call their dedicated access line on 0344 482 5137 or e-mail access@delfontmackintosh.co.uk for more personalised information.

Come back soon for Part Three to read about how theatres can help Access Customers to book and plan their visit, and how you as an Access Customer can help theatres arrange the assistance you need to attend. We would still love to hear about your experiences as an Access Customer, so please do get in touch.

About Sidonie Ferguson

Sidonie Ferguson
Sidonie has a BA in Theatre Studies, and an MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy. Describing theatre as her ‘home’ she is never happier than when she is wandering around a theatre. One of her first theatre memories is watching Victoria warm up before a performance of Cats in Blackpool in 1989 - in the eyes of a 5 year old, Victoria was 100% cat. Now, sadly, some of the magical way a child sees things has faded, but that doesn’t stop her enjoying as much theatre as she can. She is partial to a good musical and has a love for the integration of digital technologies into live performance. On the rare occasion she gets to go to Broadway Sidonie is a firm believer of go big or go home, with the 2014 record of 11 shows in 8 days not yet having been beaten – but there is always next time.