The Access Project, launched in 1992 at Remains Theater, “is a nationally recognized outreach efforts designed to include people with disabilities in all aspects of theater.” In 1995, the project transferred to Victory Gardens Theatre, which has housed the program ever since. Phillips Dawkins, a Chicago Playwright, is part of the Access Project. In Spring of 2014, Strawdog Theatre staged Dawkins’ play, Miss Marx: or the Involuntary Effect of Living. Because Strawdog is not a physically accessible theater, some of Dawkins’ friends with disabilities, including some from the Access Project, wouldn’t be able to see the production. To open up Dawkins’ play to people with disabilities, he and Victory Gardens brought Miss Marx to their stage. The community embraced the move. As a result, Straw Dog and Victory Gardens launched a partnership in 2014, through which Victory Gardens housed accessible performances of Straw Dog Productions. Originally, the Straw Dog shows can only from the theatre’s alternative stage. But this year, Straw Dog is bringing main stage productions to Victory Gardens. In the Fall of 2015, and in the Spring of 2016, Straw Dog will stage four performances, one each of The Long Christmas Ride Home, In A Word, Once in a Lifetime, After Miss Julie. The move to an inclusive venue is more than an accessible stage. Each production will also include audio description, close captioning, and a touch tour.
Photo taken from Victory Gardens Website
The partnership is a win-win for both theaters. Monty Cole is the Artistic Programs Manager with Victory Gardens. He says the partnership is a “great way to widen our (Victory Gardens) programming,” and it helps Stawdog reach out to and include the disability community. In 2015, the disability community is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, using the anniversary as a tool to cultivate more opportunity and access for people with disabilities. Though people with disabilities have civil rights protections, change often comes after someone makes a personal connection to disability. That’s what inspired the neo-futurists Theater to launch a partnership similar to the Strawdog partnership.
Taylor Bailey of the neo-futurists theatre used to work at Victory Gardens. He built the captioning for the theatre’s Access Project. With the neo-futurists, he saw and liked what was happening with Strawdog Theatre. With Bailey’s connection, and because of an initiative to diversify their audience and ensemble, the neo-futurists approached Victory Gardens about a similar collaboration. Now, plans are in the works to bring the iconic Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind to Victory Gardens. With the frenetic pace of the play, and because the play is not scripted, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind poses a huge challenge for captioning. “But,” Cole said, “The nature of the play is that it makes every work harder.” With this in mind, the partners agreed to stage accessible performances this coming Fall and Spring. The neo-futurists also plan to host workshops at Victory Gardens. Through the workshops, members of the public have “the opportunity to create work in the neo-Futurist aesthetic and follow a version of the process that the neo-Futurist ensemble uses every week to create TMLMTBGB, (from neo-futurist website).” It’s possible that someone with a disability from the workshop could be become part of the neo-futurists ensemble.
Finally, in an effort to pair awareness with physical access at the theatre, on August 10 Victory Gardens is hosting a workshop for front line staff from the Chicago Theater Community to hear more about access services and best practices for working with people with disabilities. “We hope that this event will help steer disability services in a great way.”
For more information about the Access Project, and the Victory Gardens Collaborations, visit http://victorygardens.org/plan-your-visit/access-project/