Ben Wilson at Sheffield Theatres has the great job title of agent for change. “It’s either the coolest or stupidest job title in the world!” he joked.
He’s working with the Crucible and the Lyceum to make shows that are more accessible for people with different disabilities and involve more diverse talent on stage.
Sheffield Theatres are taking part with six other theatre organisations in the theatre company, Ramps on the Moon, which brings together casts of actors where 50 per cent have disabilities.
Ben said: “We build bridges and get those two worlds together.”
Our Country’s Good follows on from Ramps shows The Government Inspector and Tommy.
It tells the extraordinary true story of a group of 18th-century convicts and a young officer who rehearse and perform a play – Australia’s first theatrical production.
With opposition from the officers and a leading lady who may be hanged, the odds are stacked against them, to say the least.
Ramps on the Moon shows are audio described and use British Sign Language and captions “in a creative and artistic way to be accessible to disabled and non-disabled audiences,” said Ben.
He also works to encourage the theatre teams to think differently about disability and access, bringing in deaf and disabled artists to develop their own work in Sheffield.
“It’s a great way of bringing some of the best deaf and disabled talent to the team.
“We’ve had three different companies of artists coming in and they’ve done some incredible work.”
They included the DH Ensemble (DH stands for Deaf and Hearing), developing their first children’s show, Matilda and the Orange Balloon.
Blind actress and aerial performer Karina Jones was working on her show, Blind Drunk in Llandudno.
Deaf writer and performer Sophie Woolley worked on her show Augmented, about the effect of having a cochlear implant.
Ben said: “Everyone is so excited about that show. She’s a really important voice in British theatre.”
Ben can bring his own experience to the job. He trained as an actor and found he was going blind aged 23.
He said: “That moment was a big eye opener (pun intended) for me. I found out about companies like Graeae and Extant and Fingersmiths doing
really exciting work with disabled and non-disabled performers.
“I’d never seen blind people working in theatre and never seen those stories told on stage. I presumed it was the end of my career and in many ways the end of my life.
“I thought maybe I’d never get laid again! I thought it was the end of everything.
“It took me a long time to deal with and affected my emotional health.
“It’s important to other people that they have these examples of brilliant disabled talent doing wonderful things and telling wonderful stories.”
Anyone who needs help with issues on access to the theatres can contact Ben by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Country’s Good is at the Crucible Theatre from May 12 to 19. Box office: www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk