What are accessible performances?

Image description: A blonde haired girl shrug emoji, wearing a purple jumper surrounded by the various symbols for audio described, touch tours, BSL, captioned and relaxed performances.

I’ve done a few posts now listing accessible performances however I thought it might be useful to do a post explaining what is meant by the term “accessible performance” or “assisted performance” (which you might hear instead). In this post, I’ll try to give a deeper understanding of what makes a performance accessible, what different types of accessible performance there are, what is meant by each term and who each of these performances could potentially benefit.

Accessible performances are one of the biggest ways theatres and venues are ensuring they comply with the Equality Act and provide services for a more diverse and inclusive audience. They enable anyone who may not otherwise get to attend a performance to experience theatre in a way that is more accessible to them.

Below I’ve listed the different types of accessible performance, along with with the symbols or acronyms to look out for and a description of what to expect at these performances.

Image description: the 3 symbols used for audio description. The letters AD followed by )). An eye with lines running through the left half of the eye and a large central line like a \ over the symbol of the eye. And the letters AD contained within a square-shaped speech bubble.

Audio Description/ Audio Described

To identify an audio described performance you may see one of the symbols above, the letters AD or simply the words “audio described.”

What is an audio described performance?

During an audio described performance those in need of this service will receive an audio commentary, performed by an audio describer, alongside the dialogue and action of the performance which the audience members will receive through the use of a headset. The audio describer will provide a visual description and describe details such as character descriptions, set and prop descriptions, body language, expressions, action and the quality of movement to help create a clearer idea of who is on stage and what is happening. A good audio describer will do this without interrupting the dialogue or any sound effects so that they can still be clearly understood and no pertinent information is missed.

Who can benefit from this type of performance?

Audio described performances are suitable for audience members who are blind, partially sighted or have any of a number of conditions that cause sight loss.

Other valuable information about audio described performances.

Unless you can easily book accessible tickets online it is usually best to speak to a member of the box office or access team to book tickets for an audio described performance. This is to ensure that you have seats in the places where the infrared or wifi signal is best picked up by the audio description headsets. As well as allowing you to reserve the headsets themselves and receive any additional information that will be of benefit to your theatre visit. Such as where you will be able to collect your headsets or whether you can connect your own headphones/ earphones if you’d prefer. Or importantly whether there are any pre-show resources or services to help make the show even more accessible, whether that be meeting the audio describer before the auditorium opens, tactile resources or a touch tour of the set, props and costumes used in the show. I’ll provide more detailed information about touch tour’s below.

Image description: the symbol commonly used for touch tour’s of the letters TT in bold black font within a circle.

Touch Tour

To identify a performance with a touch tour you may see the symbol above, or the letters TT or simply the words “touch tour”.

What is a touch tour?

Touch tours are usually an additional service provided for some audio described performances and occasionally for relaxed performances. They usually take place around an hour before the performance starts, although that will vary between venues and also on what the touch tour consists of. For audio described performances touch tour’s allow audience members to be guided onto and around the set to touch and feel the different textures of the set and props in order to aid their understanding of the show and assist the audio description. Sometimes, if participants cannot go onto the stage, which may happen if the stage is needed by the performers or technicians or if there is a health and safety issue with having members of the audience on a specific set then audio descriptions of the set may be provided instead. With certain props or pieces of costume being bought to the participants. Occasionally there may be other resources available such as tactile model boxes of the set, costume drawings with fabric samples or other tactile resources.

Whether the touch tour is for an audio described performance or a relaxed performance the premise is still the same. They allow the participants to explore the world of the show and gain more of an understanding of it through the use of their other senses.

Who conducts the touch tour will vary. In some instances, it may be the audio describer, or it may be a member of the front of house or stage management teams or a combination of all three.

Who can benefit from a touch tour?

Touch tours are generally not an isolated event and usually take place with audio described performances or on occasion a relaxed performance and therefore are most suited to audience members needing those services. You can read who can benefit from audio described performances above and who can benefit from relaxed performances below, under the heading “relaxed performances”.

Other valuable information about touch tours.

Generally, it’s best to speak to a member of the box office or access teams at the venue to book a place on a touch tour and to receive up to date information about when and where it will take place. Sometimes touch tour’s aren’t well advertised so you may need to ask whether there will be one if you are booking for an audio described or relaxed performance.

Image description: the symbols commonly used for BSL interpreted performances. The left hand shows the index and middle fingers pointing towards the right with the other fingers closed and the right hand shows the index and middle fingers pointing upwards at a slight angle with the other fingers closed and the palm facing outwards. And the other symbol shows the left hand making a circle with the thumb and index fingers with the other fingers slightly splayed and pointing upwards and the right hand making the same gesture but with the fingers pointing downwards.

BSL Interpreted

To identify a performance that is BSL interpreted you may see the symbols above, the letters BSL or the words “signed performance”.

What is a BSL interpreted performance?

A BSL interpreted performance is a performance that will have a BSL interpreter on stage to give an interpreted performance of the show alongside the action of the show. A good BSL interpreted performance should employ an experienced and professional interpreter, who is given plenty of time to read the script and to see the play for them to prepare and deliver a competent and effective performance. Venues should also make sure that interpreters can stand in a position on stage that makes it comfortable to watch both the interpreter and the action of the play as much as possible. And ensuring the interpreter is always well lit so that their movements and facial expressions can be seen and interpreted.

In more recent times, some companies are looking into shadow interpreting, which is where the interpreter follows the characters and action on stage making it even easier for audience members to see both the interpretation and action at the same time and hopefully have a clearer understanding of what is happening.

Who can benefit from a BSL interpreted performance?

BSL interpreted performances are accessible for D/ deaf people who identify BSL as their main language or one of their languages and means of communication. However, they can also be valuable for people who are learning BSL.

Other valuable information about BSL interpreted performances.

Sometimes a seating plan for a BSL interpreted performance will clearly indicate which seats are best to sit in to clearly view the interpreter. If not it is always best to speak with a member of the box office or access teams to ensure you book seats in the right area.

Image description: the symbol often used for captioned performances of the letters CAP in bold black font inside a black circle.

Captioned Performance

To identify a captioned performance you may see the symbol above, or the letters CAP or simply the words “captioned performance”.

What is a captioned performance?

Captioned performances work in much the same way as subtitles on a television programme or film only adapted for live performance. This is achieved by having caption boxes or screens either as part of the set or separate. Or on occasion handheld devices. These screens will display the dialogue of the show at the same time as the actors are speaking or singing. Usually, they will also include the names of the characters to help differentiate and a little detail about their tone of voice. As well as any sound effects. This is all done live by a captioner who has prior access to the script and sees an earlier performance so that they can load it onto the captioning software and ensures that the captions appear on the screens at the same time as the performers speak.

Some productions, especially those made for D/ deaf audiences incorporate what is known as creative captioning. This is where the captions are a key part of the production itself and not simply an access tool.

Who can benefit from a captioned performance?

Captioned performances can benefit any audience members who are D/ deaf, hard of hearing or have any degree of hearing loss that makes going to the theatre and understanding what’s being said difficult. Captioned performances are more suited to audience members with hearing loss who do not sign and cannot access a BSL performance. However, some D/ deaf people may prefer captioned performances to BSL interpreted performances. Even though most venues should have induction loops fitted to aid audience members who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants sometimes these amplify other sounds too and still make it difficult to clearly understand what’s being said, captioned performances can help in these instances.

Captioned performances can also be useful if you are watching a show in another language. For example, if you are learning Welsh and you are watching a Welsh play. Seeing the written words as well as hearing the dialogue may aid your comprehension.

Other valuable information about captioned performances.

Again, some seating plans will clearly indicate where best to sit to view the caption screens/ boxes but if you have any uncertainty it’s always best to speak to a member of the box office or access teams. If the show information indicates that the captioning will be done via a handheld device then you may also need to be sure that you reserve this equipment in advance and where to collect it when you arrive at the theatre.

Image description: the symbol commonly used for relaxed performances of the letters RP in bold black font inside a black circle.

Relaxed Performance

To identify a relaxed performance you may see the symbol above, the letters RP or R, or simply the words “relaxed” or “relaxed performance”.

What is a relaxed performance?

A relaxed performance is a performance of a show where the atmosphere and environment are much more relaxed. Where the things that may seem overwhelming, offputting or uncomfortable about going to see a show are taken into consideration to make the experience a more comfortable and enjoyable one. And where you don’t have to worry about breaking any perceived rules, such as not leaving your seat or having to stay quiet. Here’s a list of what to expect, or not expect at a relaxed performance:

  • You can leave the auditorium if you feel you need to and as many times as you need. And this won’t cause any upset or get you in trouble.


  • The lights in the auditorium won’t go fully dark.


  • Any sounds used in the show won’t be as loud. But you’re also welcome to use ear defenders if that makes you feel more comfortable.


  • Lighting effects, such as strobe lighting used in the show might be dimmed or taken out.


  • Removing some special effects, such as pyrotechnics.


Other things to expect might vary from venue to venue or for different shows but might include:

  • More staff around to help.


  • A pre-show talk about what to expect.


  • A chill out area or room, where you can go if you need somewhere quiet. In some places, they might have a screen where you can still watch what is happening on stage.


  • A pre-show touch tour, tactile resources or resources that help familiarise you with the show.


  • Resources that help familiarise you with the theatre.


  • A reduced capacity audience, so that the auditorium is not as full or feel too claustrophobic.

Who can benefit from a relaxed performance?

Relaxed performances are usually aimed at children and adults who are autistic, neurodiverse or have a learning disability. Or for adults with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disabilities. However, there are many other people who may benefit from a relaxed performance, such as anyone with epilepsy or anyone who has conditions that make them sensitive to light and sounds, such as migraines or misophonia. Anyone who cannot sit still for very long for whatever reason. People who may need to leave the auditorium to go to the bathroom more frequently. Anyone with Tourette’s syndrome or who makes other involuntary noises. And they can be particularly useful for anyone with mental health conditions such as anxiety or panic disorder because you can come and go as needed and you’re not sat in the dark.

Other valuable information about relaxed performances.

Check what each venues booking policy is for getting tickets to see a relaxed performance. And ask whether there will be a pre-show touch tour or other resources available. Ask as many questions as you need to to help reassure you about your visit and help you to have the best experience possible whilst you’re at the venue.

I hope this post has been valuable and helped give more of an understanding of what accessible performances are. If you would like any help finding an accessible performance in your area please let me know.

You can see my listings posts for upcoming accessible performances by clicking on the titles below:

Kinky Boots UK tour accessible listings

Accessible Theatre Listings North Wales June- December 2019

Accessible Theatre Listings South Wales June- December 2019

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