Today’s All Access Pass goes to PuSh Festival!! Featuring interviews with Accessible PuSh Coordinator, Anika Vervecken, as well as performers, Tony Diamanti, Liz MacDougail and Dan Watson from PuSh's "This is the Point".
Hosts: Nicole, Alison, Lidia, and Deepi
Nicole: Hello everyone, my name is Nicole and you’re listening to All Access Pass on CiTR 101.9 FM. We’re broadcasting live from Vancouver, on the unceded territory of hookameenam speaking Musqueam people. In the studio, I am joined by my accessibility collective teammates: Lidia, and Alison and accessibility collective coordinator Deepi as well as music department manager Myles, who is handling the switchboard for us.
Nicole: This is the first show for 2019. So happy new year CiTR listeners! And we hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a terrific New Years Eve and Day. Today’s All Access Pass goes to PuSh Festival! This event which will showcase various types of performances across Vancouver runs from January 17th to February 3rd. In fact, we will air interviews from Accessible PuSh coordinator as well as performers Tony Diamanti, Liz MacDougail and Dan Watson.
Furthermore, CiTR’s art support which will air today at 5 o’clock on CiTR will also air our interview with performer Christine Horn from Prince Hamlet. Then to conclude our PuSh festival coverage we’ll air an interview with Monica Germino from Muted on the January 23rd show of All Access Pass. Hope you all will tune in for that then!
Nicole: To get started, here is an interview Alison and I conducted with Anika Vervecken- the Accessible PuSh coordinator. We hope you all enjoy this interview!
Anika: So my name is Anika Vervecken and I am the Accessibility coordinator at the PuSh festival. My main job is to identify the barriers that are stopping people from coming to the festival and figure out how we can best address those and then work with everybody in our team with marketing, with our curators sometimes and especially with the volunteers because dealing with accessibility- accessibility is dealt with- other than the work that I do beforehand during the festival, 90 percent of that is front of house and volunteers. So that's a really important part making sure that people are trained to support our patrons.
Alison: Push has been around since 2003 almost 15 years now. Can you tell us a little bit about it and the history of the accessibility department?
Anika: It started out really really small with Norman Armour from Rumble Theatre and Katrina Dunn from Touchstone wanting to bring a show to Vancouver, from I forget where it’s from...it was an international show. They really thought Vancouver should see that show and that's kind of like how PuSh started. It started really small with one show and then it became bigger and bigger. I guess accessibility was always a little bit part of it, in that they always, you know, both Norman and Katrina really care about reaching out to people that should have access to certain shows. And in 2013 was the first time that there was live described shows an ASL interpretive shows and from there it's just been growing and growing.
Alison: Nice! What made you interested in helping people with disabilities?
Anika: My background is actually... I've always loved performing arts and I studied theater and I studied music and then I gave in to my mom's wishes to get a real degree. And I studied translation and I... this is back home in Belgium and the school I went to specialized in audiovisual translation which is where I learned subtitling, subtitling for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and describing and I immediately took that to live performance like my master thesis was on titles in live performance and I just was immediately passionate about that and what I really really got out of that is how to identify what's the information that's not accessible to people and how can we translate that into an accessible format. And given that I was always so passionate about live performance myself I really love trying to find ways to give other people the opportunity to enjoy this as well. And when I started this job I just started seeing more and more ways to do that. And you know that it was maybe not, no longer about you know taking sound and translating that into ASL or translating that into captions but also just looking at a staircase and be like okay how can we translate this staircase (laughs) or just sometimes it's, it's a building that is intimidating to people and that they don't feel welcome at. And trying to figure out..okay...how, what can we do to make these people feel supported and feel welcome in this space. I think the biggest thing that I've learned is to approach people as people and listen to them and figure out what it is that we can do to support them in coming to a live performance. And yes we need to generalize certain things so that we can say we offer this specific thing and be really specific about that but then once you're face to face with a patron you know the question is simply “how can I help you?” And that's why accessibility is an ever-evolving landscape because people's needs are constantly going to change and the type of shows that we're offering is constantly going to change. So the same way that our curators are constantly traveling around the world trying to find the shows that they think Vancouver needs right now that would resonate with people here, in the same way, I am trying to constantly look at what is it that we're offering and is this still what our community needs right now.
Alison: Very well. So how did PusH’s accessibility department obtain the resources necessary in order to be the way it is now, that is education, access to assistive devices, equipment or stage stuff and consoles? And are there any future plans?
Anika: PuSh’s accessibility department is kind of me. I never could have been able to get to where I am right now if I didn't have all these people in the community here to tell me what their needs specifically were. And working with vocal, I describe shows for vocal as well, has also been really amazing because what Steph Kirtland has built up is incredibly comprehensive and has really taught me a lot about accessibility for people who are blind or live with sight loss. Because to me before it was like okay, we're going to describe a show but you know through vocal land stuff I learned like...well that's all really nice but if your show is at Granville Island which is hard to navigate when you have sight you know if you can't get there then the show is still not accessible and that's why Steph developed the theater buddies program and all the different things that vocalized and has been really inspiring to me like making fireworks accessible and now working with the art gallery. I mean in terms of like physical accessibility material there isn't necessarily that much. I mean you know we work with vocalized to use the equipment for live description but other than that there's not necessarily a whole lot of technology involved. I mean for live performances we need, you know extra cables and TVs and sound so that the Chill Out Zone has a live feed of the show. But that hasn't necessarily been a huge thing. But like you see consultants are really really important. Like I’ve talked about consulting or talking to people in the community, but also you know having consultations and this year was the first year where I was lucky enough to be able to work with a deaf consultant which was really really great and incredibly helpful for me to get their perspective. And I really hope to be able to build on that more because I've gotten a lot from the community but that's a lot of just like conversations over coffee and we need to go more to places where we're actually hiring people with lived experience so…
Interviewer: If you could give advice to our listeners, potential businesses, and fine art performance organizations on how to turn their organizations into a more accessible and inclusive environment; what would you say and the steps to follow?
Anika: For arts organizations, is you know to engage with the community, and don't engage with one person, engage with the community try and find out what different people want. What I have seen before is that people talk to one person and then just take all of that and do all of that but they don't necessarily reach out to other organizations or other people. And so it's always good to try and reach out to a variety of people or to organizations, ideally led by people who live with the barrier that you're trying to overcome. Because that's been one of my frustrations that I've had people who are like yes will come and tell you how to support these people but then the people who come and teach don't live with that barrier and I'm like, well now I'm able to pay everybody who comes and speaks. I mean before that I did that as well but I had to be really limited in what I could do now, I can actually, you know anybody who comes gets paid including people who come as what I call...and I haven't found the right word for it. But I ask people to come for example when we had our session on supporting people who are deaf and hard of hearing Murray Clarson led that that training session. But I also had three or four other deaf people in the room so that when we practiced we had somebody to practice with. When we asked questions it wasn't just Murray answering, but there was other people who could give additional perspective and we offer...it's small but we also offer an honorarium to those people or they can get tickets if they prefer that and that was really important to me. So not only do we now have a bit more of a budget to be able to pay people properly but I also love about it is that we now have a room full of people who work for different arts organization that are having that same discussion. So there is a little bit more of unity in the arts organizations in that the same discussion is now going to different places. And when we teach certain things it's like, like there's more of a standard. And I think it would be really great to be able to do that more across the Lower Mainland but at least a starting point is being made. Like I said all I facilitate everything I organize everything. But I don't necessarily teach. I get people with lived experience to come and teach. The one part that I do do is the one about relax performances because it...It supports such a huge variety of different people that I tend to be the person who talks about what it is all the different components that go into it. And then we invite people with lived experience, people with like this year we had Nao MacNeil come who has lived with Down syndrome. We had Jake Anthony come who lives with autism and we had George Bellamy who lives with Tourette's syndrome. And you know, then they get- after I explain all the different things that go into relax performance, they're the ones that actually explain how that affects them personally and then people get to ask questions about how they would feel most support, supported and what's useful to them and what's not. So yeah I only have people with lived experience come and talk to people. And because I can't answer questions for somebody living with autism or I can't answer questions for somebody who's deaf. You know we often spent a lot of time talking about you know what are the different things that we need to include in this training because it's a very specific training for people working in theater. And it's a lot of information for them to take in, so we have long discussions about what is really relevant within a theater setting at a show and I mean same would go for anybody if you have any specific needs you can reach out to us and we try to accommodate people earlier like Nao MacNeill and his mother are also going to come and volunteer and that was also...we did that before other volunteers got in, got the opportunity to sign up and also all of the volunteers who have done the accessibility training they get priority on all of the shows that have specific accessibility feature.
Interviewer: And what has the collaboration been like with the performers and theater directors when making their shows accessible?
Anika: So the PuSh festival is a curated festival. So basically I have no say in which shows come I just get like a list of shows: these are shows that are coming, and we never ask people to change their show. The show comes as it is. And then I go and try and analyze...you know out of all these shows which one would be the best to have a cell interpretation with or a live description. And one of the things that I started, things that I came up with is that sometimes a show is very visual but there is like a tiny little bit of talking here or there and for a deaf person that would be super frustrating but it's not enough for me to bring in an ASL interpreter but I do want them to come and see this show and that's when I started coming up with writing introductions. So an introduction could be for people who are different hard of hearing, could also be for people who are blind or living with sight loss where I give them the information that they need to be able to go and see this show. It could be a theatre show for instance where halfway down suddenly for three minutes the performer doesn't talk and that's because they get they're getting changed at the back of the... and you can see them getting changed, except that for a person who's blind they'd be like “oh what's going on is the show over? Should I get up? should I clap?” Whereas if I tell them beforehand in the introduction: “oh about 30 minutes into the show this is going to happen” now they know and now they don't have to feel annoyed or frustrated. And I look at the shows and try and see what we can do to make them accessible and sometimes the answer is simple nothing. This is not going to work. We can't do that. The only time when we do ask artists to change the show a bit is with relaxed performances. So that's often a long negotiation with them to see if they're open to that. Because for relaxed performance the house lights stay on. There's no flashing lights or pyrotechnics, the sound levels, and the light levels, in general, get taken down a little bit so that they're not as intense. And we also ask to act out some of the intense scenes in an introduction beforehand and so that is actually quite an... you know that can be a big change to a show sometimes it's not, sometimes it already is quiet, it doesn't require a lot of change, sometimes it does. And then we have to really work with the director and the creative team very closely to figure out how to make that work. But in general, I do find that people are really open to making their shows more accessible. And like when I write an introduction I always write with the artists, I ask them what they want to put in this, what information they wanted to share. And I tell them like, now that you have this, take it with you! You know next time you're at a festival, say hey I've got an introduction for people who are deaf and hard of hearing which is really great. And when it comes to performing arts accessibility means opening up your doors, means making sure that people who face certain barriers can come and enjoy your shows. Inclusion means putting people facing those barriers on your stages. That's something that's happening more. But, inclusion also means having those people work in your offices, in your box office, be your theater technicians, and that's something that we still need to work a lot on. And even in just making our venues and our offices accessible so that we can include people in our workforce because if somebody can't get onto the stage well you know, they can make a wonderful show but they can't get onto the stage...not much is going to happen. What I get annoyed by is people saying like oh we should have more, you know like, they talk about hiring people into certain positions and then they're often talking about like top-level positions and I'm like well, what we really need to do is start at the base level. And once we start giving people opportunities at the base level then they can grow into all the other positions. But we need to start there. So I think that your project really hits the nail we need to give people the opportunity to educate themselves and to gain experience.
Interviewer: That’s great!
Anika: One of my favorite moments in the festival last year was related to a show. There was a show that came from Australia called it's dark outside and it was purely visual. It had music which was gorgeous but you didn't need it. And I was really excited because for the first time we were able to get the students from Burnaby, the B.C. School for the Deaf to come and see this show. And after the show, there was a talkback and the moment that to me was like the most gratifying was, when one of those kids put up their hands and said: “How can I join your company? I want to do this. How can I join your company?” And I love how the artist or the performer responded they're like “oh well the people who made this show they're coming back to kids fest with another show. Here's the card you should get in touch with them.” I love that. I mean I also love that he didn't say like well actually we're in Australia, it might be a bit far but the thing to me was like not only did this kid enjoy the show, they were now inspired that this is something that they want to do that they might be able to do that to me was one of the most gratifying moments I've had in my four years here. One of the new things that we've been doing is relax performances. And one of the things I love about relaxed performances is that you know when we do ASL interpretation that's very specifically geared to the deaf community, live description- it's for people who are blind with sight loss, relax performances really...It's such a huge variety of people that can be supported with that. From people living on the spectrum to people with developmental disabilities to moms with babies, people who just can't sit still ,people who are scared in the dark like there's so many different things. But specifically for people on the spectrum one of the things that I think are helpful in the relaxed performances is that we create visual stories. And we create a visual story for the venue and we create one for the show and what's individual stories is a lot of the venue for example is how to get there with a lot of pictures. What does the building look like? What does a bus stop look like? What does the parking lot look like? Once you get inside, what does the box office look like? The theater itself the washrooms and to help people on the spectrum prepare. So that once, so that if they get to go through this visual story it helps them prepare so that once they get to the theater they're not already overwhelmed with everything being new. And same thing for the show so the visual story for the show it tells you what to expect, what things you know, is there going to be violence in the show, is it going to be loud, in general what the performers look like and we always put a picture of the performer regular and then in costume. And then one of the most important things of a visual story is that it tells you everything that's going to happen in the show with a big disclaimer like spoiler alert at the top, because I personally would hate to read that because I don't want to know what's going to happen. I want to be surprised. But for people living with autism very often they want to know exactly what's going to happen. I think it would be really great to have visual stories for every venue that we have here so that people who are like, you know, “I can deal with not knowing what's going to happen in the show but it's just that trip of going there and not knowing what to expect not knowing what things look like”, if at least that barrier is taken away then “I'm ok, then I can go and see this show and deal with the fact that I don't quite know the story yet.” I'm always open and I have had people, you know, call me beforehand and say like: “Hey I'd like to know more about the show”, and given that in my research I end up like watching a lot of archival video videos of shows I can often tell them: “actually this and this and this is going to happen in the show now but at the same time there's still a lot that could be done.”
Interviewer: Before we wrap up this interview, is there anything you would like to say to our CiTR listeners?
Anika: I'd love to give some advice that Norman Aamer who started the festival and was the artistic director up until last year, he would always say “Take a chance.” Look through the program guide and pick the show that you wouldn't go see and go and see it. Find something that's outside of your comfort zone and push yourself to go see it. And if you've never been to our festival. Find out what show you know you think might go well with you. Send me an email, give me a call and I'll help you figure out what your show could be and we can see, like if we can help you push that boundary a bit of what you would normally go see and see something different but try something new. It's scary sometimes but also exhilarating. But what I hope it does for you is that you either love it or hate it
Interviewer: Thank you so much!
Anika: You’re welcome!
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Interviewer: The interview you heard before the break was from Anika Vervecken, who is the accessible PuSh coordinator. Now we will play an interview that Alison and Deepi conducted with performers: Tony Diamanti, Dan Watson and Liz MacDougail from This is the Point, which will be presented at the PuSh Festival on January 29th to February 1st. So all these days included at 8:00 p.m. on each day and then again on February 2nd at 2:00 p.m. Also you can check out PuSh festival's website for any changes to showtimes and more. The website is: pushfestiva.ca/festival-events. But before the interview airs we wanted to share that in this interview, Tony uses a letter board to express what he would like to see and then talks on his behalf. So here is the interview.
Tony: Hi. I’m Tony. I'm talking with a letter board and I'm using a voice which sounds nothing like my voice, right?
Liz: Ok so I'm Liz. Tony and I have been together for a couple...over 15 years and I've been doing this show with “This is the Point” for about four years. Ever since that orginatally changed as I’ve been Tony’s assistant because Tony had personal needs and then so the director Rachel Perry (I think) asked if I wanted to get involved with acting and I said “ok, sure. That sounds so cool”. I found that I really like it and that is something I really enjoyed. Also, I work at something called “Craft Service” and Craft Service where I work with TV/Movie production and sometimes acting in roles.
Interviewer: That’s awesome! Thank you! Thank you. Can you tell us what is “This is the Point” about?
Tony: Okay! “This is the Point” is about our different story revolving around issues of disability, not speaking in particular. So, it’s a place about real reality and we show true power story in the relex way meaning each team for before each thing the audience sees how we get set up for the next scene. There’s no going behind. (My accuracy is questionable here)
Interviewer: This question is for you Tony: A lot of us in the collective think that your communication style is unique. Do you or Dan want to talk about this or how you communicate in your daily life?
Tony: Okay, I basically use either my letter board or my computer to direct my- in my everyday needs.
Interviewer: Thanks Tony for telling us all that, this is really neat. My next question is for you Liz: You also have a disability, do you mind if we ask what your disability is? And how has a play like “This is the Point” helped you bring awareness as a person with a disability?
Liz: So I have Cerebral Palsy and um in one of my monologues I tell that Tony and I come on stage and say a few things on Cerebral Palsy and other things and all depending on your sense of humor, constantly perverted depends on Tony and I and so in our play we want people to know about people with disabilities that all have a home. We all live with mommy and daddy or in group homes which is not true and when people with disabilities are sweet and childlike, we don’t drink, we don’t drink or smoke weed and go to rock concerts and we do all that and not everyone with a disability is sweet, these are assumptions and they make igorence with people with disabilities.
Interviewer: You both have been involved in many projects in the past. Do you mind telling us a bit about them?
Other interviewer: So Liz you kinda touched on this but maybe Tony you can mention some projects you’ve been involved in?
Tony: Okay, I was involved with a group called AAC which stands for Augmented and Alternative Communication but we don't just focus on the communication. We touch on all aspects of life that a person who uses a alternative communication to deal with like super attendance that don’t take the time to learn about each person communication method.
Interviewer: Liz would you like to add anymore, what projects you’ve been involved in?
Liz: To tell you the truth I am already in lost and can’t be approached no not really and just all about “This is the Point” everything else is mainly there hasn’t been much approach about me groups and people with disabilities and support groups.
Interviewer: It’s amazing what you two are doing and all the power to you! Dan, actually this is for you, you are the creator of “This is the Point” right?
Dan: Well we all created it.
Interviewer: Yeah okay, maybe then all of you can add like after this, what made you want to create this play?
Dan: So “This is the Point” came out of our personal lives, involved my partner Christina and we both have three children. Our oldest is Bruno and Bruno likes a lot of things, he likes Christmas music and he has Cerebral Palsy Bruno uses a communication device and Christina and I we saw what the communication system was but we also saw its limitations because it's about making choices but communication is also about imagining an expression. So, we wanted to use our theater past to work with people, to communicate, to find a different outlet that people can use their imaginations and expression and through that work that Tony did. And we really hit it off together felt like it was really important to get and share our lives on stage to try to bring it awareness and change perception of disability. And it was important to offer a full range of experience not only with talent but also the lives that we all live and the love and the good things and not just the hard things. That's where it happened. Yeah. We got together and developed it over three years.
Interview: Do you guys feel vulnerable while on stage and showcasing your disabilities?
Tony: I mean, it’s actually therapeutic for me and Liz.
Interviewer: I never saw it that way! How did you meet one another? Well we know about Liz and Tony. How about you Dan with Liz and Tony?
Dan: So yeah as I mentioned earlier we were Christina, My partner and I were doing some work at the King's theater with people who had had no skills to communicate and we people who had license to communicate it. A mutual friend had told me that Tony likes to do theater and at that time there was a big project and we invited Tony to work on projects with us. And Tony said well, he had written it his life wanted to do it- a play. So he sent it to me read it and we got together and then we thought well let's start working on some stories and while we were both working some stories from our lives came in, Liz as well. So that explains it all.
Interviewer: What kind of feedback or a comment have you gotten by the audience?
Tony: We’ve have had great feedback from our audience. Few people said to me my eyes are open
Liz: Maybe defunct if you will. A lot of assumptions that people have about us and our lives and know that with no friends and as I mentioned before that people's disabilities works. We're not in that we actually do a lot of us of course. And I do like to do things like no drink go rock concerts have sat and I think also a lot of people I know one person I know that is headache for people with disabilities and say I really am not and I am same as you with an attitude.
Interviewer: So for our listeners, why should they check out the performance “This is the Point?”
Liz: Because it is a show that’s very good um about our true love. it’s all about love and disability and I guess to some people controversial, which is good has some scenes which are not for the faint of heart and we light hearted scenes.
Interviewer: I think that sums up really great. Thank you all three of you. Thank you so much. For taking your time.
Dan: Thank you!
Interviewer: Thanks. And good luck! I hope the show goes well! And for listeners do check out this play “This is the Point”.
Deepi: We all hope you enjoyed this interview with Liz and Tony and Dan. I don't know about Alison but for me this interview was such a great experience because while I have done so many interviews for All Access Pass in the past, I have never had the opportunity to interview anyone who uses a letter board to communicate. Again, those of you who don't know what a letter board is, it is a board that has individual letters, words, numbers and symbols. Allison and I couldn’t see what was really happening since this interview was conducted over the phone. It was challenging in a way because we didn't know when the conversation had ended or not. And this reason we needed to be patient and not rush when someone is using a unique style to speak or be heard. I really wanted to say thank you to Tony for giving us a different style of interview and Liz for talking to us. Alison, what was your take on this interview you did?
Alison: It was insane. I think you summed it up really nicely Deepi, Yeah it was hard to follow but it was a great learning experience for both of us.
Deepi: Yeah. And I wish Liz and Tony and Dan on the best of luck with this play and I hope it does really well I'm sure it will. So please do check it out, Nicole?
Nicole: And that wraps up our show for today.
Lidia (?): Yeah. And if anyone out there is interested in joining our team or if there's an issue you would like to have covered on the show, be sure to send us an e-mail at “email@example.com”
Deepi (?): Thank you to our interviewees: Anika Vervecken, Liz, Tony and Dan.
Deepi: And please like us on our All Access Pass Facebook page
Alison (?): If you're on Twitter or Instagram or both please follow us: @access_citr.
Interviewer: If you missed part of our lives show today and want to listen again or even maybe you want to listen to our past shows you can check out our podcast shows on citr.ca by going on the search box and searching all access pass.
Alison: Hi Grandpa. (laughs)
Deepi: Thank you for listening and tune into our show in two weeks Wednesday at 2 p.m..
Lidia: All right. And be sure to stick around for more even excellent programming coming up next. Shout out to the Art Support at 5:00 PM who's going to have a really cool interview coming up with Christine Horne by Deepi and Alison again. Thanks for listening guys. Bye!