Theatre has the ability to bring people together and spark imagination, writes Hollie Smith.

The National Theatre has increased the number of assisted performances, making specific adaptations to meet the different requirements of our audiences. This includes offering sensory-adapted, audio-described, BSL interpreted, captioned and chilled performances, with twenty pairs of smart caption glasses available for most productions. Recently, we have made adjustments for people living with dementia, in our Dementia-Friendly performances. 

By increasing access and focusing on creative inclusion, we can inspire at any age, in any place, for anyone. Our Public Acts programme is a sustained community partnership with communities and theatres across the UK, through which we create ambitious new works of participatory theatre. Theatre can be a force for change by harnessing the power of collective purpose and imagination. Public Acts spaces are designed to bring joy through the power of theatre, making every individual feel welcome, necessary and powerful. It’s a culture that assumes nothing, never underestimates and recognises that people are experts of their own experiences. It takes the time to understand people’s access needs and the practical steps needed for an equitable experience. We adapt scripts using inclusive language, collaborating with specialist access workers.

■ The power of theatre.

The recent multi-venue production of The Odyssey was made in collaboration with hundreds of community members and professional artists from across the country. The final episode of the story was performed on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre, as a full-scale musical production with 160 performers from across England. The players rehearsed in their home towns of Sunderland, Doncaster, Trowbridge, Stoke-on-Trent and London before heading to the National Theatre for two rehearsal weekends and a final eleven-day residency. Specialist access workers travelled with company members who required support. Two of the community company members had on-stage access workers who were also members of the company. We were able to give everyone in our company the chance to shine. Theatre can have a deep impact, with communities that experience its power having the chance to take part in a collective purpose and imagination. Everyone was able to come together and have the chance to not only take part in but take something from theatre as well.

■ Sparking imagination.

On-stage worker Matt said “I was particularly pleased at the willingness to balance an element of unpredictability in the performance, in order to maximise the inclusiveness of the experience for SEN participants. The gentleman I supported essentially opened the entire show, performing to four-and-a-half thousand people across three nights. 

Hollie Smith
Author: Hollie Smith

Hollie Smith
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Hollie Smith Project Manager for Public Acts at the National Theatre
Twitter: @NationalTheatre
Instagram: @NationalTheatre


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