Back at the start of the first lockdown we saw a flurry of theatre companies scrabbling to get content online. In those early days there was almost an overwhelming amount available to watch, from archive recordings to rapidly rehearsed Zoom shows. But one thing that became quickly apparent was that, in the rush to digital, accessibility was an afterthought. At one stage we were asked if we could put together a guide to BSL and captioned content. This turned out to be difficult to do on the basis that there really wasn’t very much out there apart from videos making use of YouTube’s automatically generated captions. Encouragingly, things are starting to change, with more creatives including closed captions on their digital content. Even better, we are starting to see the emergence of online offerings from theatre companies that specialise in putting accessibility first. One such production is First Three Drops from Taking Flight Theatre Company, which we watched this weekend.
Taking Flight is a Welsh theatre company which makes bold, unusual theatre productions with D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled performers, aiming to push the boundaries of making theatre as accessible as possible for everyone. First Three Drops (a co-production with RCT Theatres) is an accessible adaptation of Welsh folk tale, Taliesin, for ages 2-9. Written and directed by Elise Davison (Artistic Director and Joint CEO of Taking Flight), the show is performed on Zoom, and uses integrated audio-description, closed captions, SSE (sign supported English) and BSL. You can find the trailer, BSL flyer and audio flyer below:
Together, deaf and hearing actors, Stephanie Back, Sam Bees, Paul Brown and Ioan Gwyn, tell the tale of Taliesin in lockdown style. Like everyone else this year, Ceridwen the witch has had to homeschool her son, Morfran. But, unlike his studious best friend, Gwion, Morfran is not all that into learning. So when Ceridwen receives her son’s school report, she turns to magical means. The first three drops of a powerful potion will see Morfran knowing everything there is to know. But with the potion requiring stirring for a year and a day, it’s reliable Gwion who is put in charge of the spoon. After a full year of meticulous mixing, will Gwion abandon his post to let Morfran have a mix? And who ends up drinking the first three drops?
Filled with stories and song, it’s a fun and humorous introduction to a classic Welsh tale, with plenty of contemporary references. Although performed on Zoom, the munchkins were a bit disappointed that it was not interactive, with cameras turned off until the end (when audience members do get to see each other and have a little dance party). But it still very much feels like live theatre, and there are plenty of pre-show activities available on the website to help little audience members get in on the action, including a shaker-making video and printable mask templates. It was lovely to see some little ones dancing around their living rooms in their masks at the end of the show!
From the very first moment, it is obvious that Taking Flight is a company that has accessibility and inclusivity at its heart. First Three Drops is a truly integrated production, which uses BSL, SSE and audio description very naturally as part of the performance. In a really nice touch, even the closed captions are incorporated into the script itself in an entertaining way. This really gives it the feel of a show that is for everyone, which can be watched in many different, but absolutely equal, ways. It’s clear that Taking Flight has taken the time to learn from the last few months and produce a piece of theatre which provides access to the arts to those who have been excluded for so long. They have really set the bar for inclusive theatre and we look forward to seeing what they come up with next.